Sestak Criminal Complaint Details Alleged Visa For Dollars Scheme: Refusal Rates, Emails, and Money Trails

— By Domani Spero

McClatchy’s Michael Doyle reported last week about Foreign Service officer Michael T. Sestak who faces charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and bribery in an alleged visa-for-money scheme.  We blogged about it here (see USCG Ho Chi Minh: Former Visa Chief Faces Charges of Conspiracy to Commit Visa Fraud and Bribery).  This has also been covered widely by the local press in Vietnam with Toui Tre News running daily installments from the criminal complaint.  (Update. On June 1, a Times Union report includes the name of one of the alleged co-conspirator based in Denver, Colorado and some career background of Michael T. Sestak prior to State:  “Sestak left the Albany police force in 1999 to become a U.S. marshal, according to police officers who know him. He joined the Navy in 2001, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander and serving as an intelligence officer during tours that included assignments in the Pacific, Europe and Washington, D.C., according to military records.”).

We reached out to the US Embassy in Vietnam where officials refused to comment.  Public Affairs Officer Christopher Hodges writes, “We have no comment but would instead refer you to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington DC.  You can reach them at 202 252 6933.”   Similarly, the Bureau of Consular Affairs also declined to comment saying, “[W]e do not have any comment on topics related to Mr. Sestak’s case.” However, in an emailed response to an inquiry from Thanh Nien in Vietnam, Mr. Hodges reportedly said that they will seek to prosecute and punish those people involved to the fullest extent of the law. “Protecting the integrity of the U.S. visa is a top priority of the U.S. government. We have zero tolerance for malfeasance,” said Mr. Hodges, quoted in the local press.

The criminal complaint had been unsealed in early May but to-date, there has been no statement from USDOJ or the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia.  According to court records, Mr. Sestak was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshal in California for removal to the District of Columbia on May 14, 2013.   (Update.  On May 31, Tuoi Tre News says its reporter contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for information on the legal proceedings against Michael Sestak and was told by Bill Miller, who is in charge of press inquiries, that Sestak is still detained in California while waiting to be transferred to Washington D.C. A D.C. court is making arrangements for Sestak’s trial, Miller said).

Based on the criminal complaint, this case appears to have originated from a letter received in July 2012 from a “confidential source” that claimed a “facilitator” was soliciting bribes from applicants in exchange for the issuance a U.S. visas (#8 on the complaint). The source reportedly included names, dates of births, and photographs of seven individuals alleged to have procured visas through this scheme.

The government has over 90 items listed on the affidavit executed by DSS agent Simon Dinits in support of the criminal complaint and arrest warrant dated May 8, 2013 signed by Judge Alan Kay of the District Court of the District of Columbia.

The affidavit executed by DSS Agent Dinits alleged that “sometime in or around March 2012, while working as a Consular Officer in the Non-Immigrant Visa (“NIV”) Unit of the United States Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City (the Consulate”), Vietnam, SESTAK conspired with others to solicit bribes from visa applicants in exchange for which he facilitated the approval of their visas through the Consulate.”

It also asserts that there is “probable cause to believe that Sestak has violated Title 18 USC 371 by conspiring to defraud the United States and to commit offenses against the United States , that is, visa fraud in violation of 18 USC 1546 and bribery in violation of 18 USC 201(b)(I) and (b)(2).”

The complaint noted that between August 2010 and September 2012, Sestak worked in the Nonimmigrant Visa (NIV) Unit of the Consular Section of HCMC. He was the NIV chief and supervised approximately four other consular officers.  The recent OIG report on HCMC which praised the nonimmigrant visa work flow as “efficient” indicates that in addition to four officers, the NIV chief also supervised 16 local Vietnamese employees.

So what did Diplomatic Security looked at? It seemed like they dug up quite a bit:

1.  Refusal Rates:

DSS reviewed the adjudication statistics and found that from May 1, 2012 – September 6, 2012, the HCMC approved 20,362 nonimmigrant visas (NIVs) and refused 11,024 NIVs, an overall refusal rate of 35.1%.  The complaint notes that Sestak, during the same period approved 5,040 NIVs and refused 449 NIVs for a personal refusal rate of 8.17%.  Sestak’s refusal rate went from 30.3% in January to 6.4% in May,11.3% in June, 9.35% in July, 3.82% in August and 6.67% in September which was his last month at post. (#11 in criminal complaint).

2.  Tainted IP address

425 NIV applications had been accessed from two IP address. Sestak conducted initial interview for 404 of the 419 applicants and approved visas for 386 NIVs.  DSS traced one IP address using a Virtual Private Network to  an ISP in California, used to access all 408 NIV applications, and belong to one of the alleged co-conspirators with address in Denver, Colorado.  The complaint notes that two other IP addresses were assigned to ISPs located in Vietnam and the US could not serve legal process to receive subscriber information for the relevant IP address logins.

3. Search Warrants on Gmail and Yahoo Emails

DSS executed search warrants to Gmail and Yahoo email accounts of alleged conspirators, including the emails of a co-conspirator’s father, sister in-law, and others as well as the email of Sestak’s sister in Yulee, Florida. The investigators also looked at Google chats between Sestak and alleged co-conspirator and unearthed 11 shell email accounts used to received biographic info for visa applicants.

4. Money Trails and Wire Transfers

DSS review of financial records between June 20, 2012 and September 11, 2012, indicates 35 money transfers totaling approximately $3,238,991.00 allegedly made to Sestak Thailand Bank Account; majority of the transfers came from Bank of China Beijing (#44).  There was an alleged $600,000 transfer to Sestak Thailand Bank Acct (#46) and an email with transaction details of approximately $1.46 million in transfers allegedly to Sestak Thai Bank account (#47).  Over half a dozen banks used in the transactions are mentioned in the complaint: Wells Fargo; Bank of Hawaii; Sestak’s Thailand Bank Account at Siam Commercial Bank PLC in Bangkok, Thailand; Bank of China Beijing; Amegy Bank of Texas; HSBC; Vietcombank.

5. Real Estate Purchases:

The complaint alleged that in mid-2012, Sestak entered agreements with a Thai real estate company to purchase four properties in Phuket, Thailand, including furnishing, for approximately $1,231,440.00 (#52). The complaint also alleged that in December 2012, Sestak entered agreements with a Thai real estate company to purchase five additional properties in Bangkok, Thailand for an approximate total of $2,103,360.00

6. Friends with Bad Benefits –#33 of the complaint includes this:

“In a chat dated June 1, 2012, co-conspirator 3 stated “last night we went out with this guy who works at the consulate– he’s the one that approves peoples visas …. and he’s this single guy who wants to find someone to be with ….and my brother knows that – so he’s been trying to get this guy out and introduce him to people ….so then later he can do him favors like …. have him approve visas for people.”

7. Statements on SF-86 Questionnaire and Interview

The complaint alleged that Sestak did not reveal his foreign bank account or foreign property purchases on his security background investigation questionnaire.  It also alleged that at the time he submitted the SF-86 questionnaire, he had already opened the Sestak Thailand Bank Account and had entered agreements to purchase four properties in Thailand.

The criminal complaint says that Sestak had a recorded interview with DSS agents in WashDC on October 19, 2012 in connection with their investigation of Vietnamese employees at the consulate general.   In that interview he was reportedly asked “Are you aware of any Americans that came to a lot of money when you were there, kind of unexpectedly, not in line with their regular salary? Sestak replied, “I can’t think of anybody that had anything.”

The allegations amounting to nearly $4 million dollars in a span of six months may be a new record but we should point out that the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.  While the allegations look damning, they are just allegations at this point until proven true in court.

We’re waiting for the DOJ statement and working on a follow-up post.

(ú_ú)

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Heroism Awards: Clifton Jeffery, Matthew Perry, Philip Rand and Christopher Bilodeau

— By Domani Spero

May 20, 2011 –Peshawar, Pakistan | “At approximately 8:28 a.m., a two-vehicle motorcade transporting six U.S. Consulate General officers from the University Town housing area to the Mission was the target of a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). As the lead car made a right turn onto Abdara Road, a VBIED detonated on the left side of the roadway. The lead Consulate vehicle was heavily damaged and rendered inoperable. The two officers inside the vehicle sustained minor injuries. The two occupants in the lead vehicle were evacuated to the second, undamaged Consulate vehicle, which then returned to the housing cluster. A post-blast investigation revealed that a motorcyclist was killed during the explosion and 11 other passersby were injured, including one who died later. The group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was perpetrated in revenge for the killing of Osama bin Laden.”

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In February this year, four of those officers were awarded the State Department’s Heroism Award for their “courageous actions during a terrorist attack on a motorcade in Peshawar, Pakistan—one of the most dangerous high-threat cities in the world.”

“All four of the DS Special Agents performed masterfully in one of the most significant terrorist attacks against Foreign Service personnel in recent years,” said Bill Miller, Deputy Assistant Secretary for High Threat Posts, Bureau of Diplomatic Security. “They were instrumental in coordinating the movements of the security team during the crisis as well as executing the proper response. The agents’ actions reflect not only their laudable physical courage, but also the highest traditions of the Diplomatic Security Service.”

Clifton Jeffery |  is the son of Clifton Jeffery, Sr., and Christine Jeffery, both residents of Vicksburg. He spent most of his early life in Mississippi—attending Warren Central High School, Tougaloo College, and Mississippi College School of Law, where he earned a JD degree. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and U.S. Army Reserve from 2001 to 2007. Jeffery became a U.S. Department of State Special Agent with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Diplomatic Security Service, in 2007.  In addition to Peshawar, Pakistan, Jeffery has served in the DS Houston Field Office and is currently an Assistant Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy Gaborone, Botswana.

Matthew Perry | is the son of Lawrence and Julie Perry, currently residing in Longwood. He attended the University of Central Florida where he received at B.S. in Psychology, then earned a M.A. in Forensic Psychology from Marymount University in 2006. Perry became a U.S. Department of State Special Agent with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Diplomatic Security Service in 2008. In addition to Peshawar, Pakistan, Perry has served in the DS New York Field Office and on a temporary duty assignment in Baghdad Iraq. He is now an Assistant Regional Security Officer in Pretoria, South Africa.

Philip Rand | is the son of Philip and Jane Rand from Plymouth and the son-in-law of Dr. Albert and Sharon Dunn of East Bridgewater. He attended Brockton High School, Bridgewater State College, and Western New England College where he received a BS degree in Criminal Justice. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for eight years after graduating from high school, then reenlisted with the Massachusetts Army National Guard in 2002 and deployed to Iraq in 2004 and 2005 as a sergeant. A police officer in the Town of Bridgewater for 10 years, Special Agent Rand joined the U.S. Department of State in 2008 as a Special Agent with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Diplomatic Security Service.  In addition to Peshawar, Pakistan, Rand served in the DS Boston Field Office and is currently an Assistant Regional Security Officer in Bangkok, Thailand.

Christopher Bilodeau |  son of the late Doris Bilodeau, attorney, and Douglas Bilodeau, owner of Douglas Auctioneers in South Deerfield, spent most of his early life in Western Massachusetts. He graduated from Frontier Regional School, attended Greenfield Community College, and received a Bachelor of Science degree from Western New England College. He has made his life’s work in public safety, serving as a volunteer fire fighter and paramedic for Deerfield and South Deerfield as well as working full time in Springfield as a paramedic and in Agawam as a fulltime firefighter before becoming a Deerfield police officer.  Bilodeau left the Deerfield Police Department in 2008 to become a U.S. Department of State Special Agent with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Diplomatic Security Service.  In addition to Peshawar, Pakistan, Bilodeau has served in the DS Boston Field Office and is currently assigned to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security headquarters office in the Washington, D.C., area.

*(^O^)*

Video of the Week: Where are you from? Where are you really from? No, where are your people really from?

— By Domani Spero

Here is a video that’s making the rounds asking “What kind of Asian are you?”  If you’re married to a foreign born spouse, some of these may sound familiar. If you are in the FS posted in a host country where Americans are still stereotyped as cast members from Baywatch, you may get this in reverse.

The video shows a white man who asks an Asian woman out on a jog where she’s from. “Your English is perfect.”

The woman deadpans, “San Diego, we speak English there.” Then the man wants to know where her “people” are really from. She says her grandmother is from South Korea.

Later, the woman turns the tables. She asks the man where he’s from.

“I’m just American,” he says.

“So you’re Native American,” she responds.

“No, just regular American,” he answers, but added that his grandparents are from England.

The woman then jumps into her best British accent.

“Beware Jack the Ripper! ………….. Bloody hell!” she yells.

She calms down to compliment him, “I think your people’s fish and chips are amazing,”

The man says she is weird, the woman answers, “Must be a Korean thing.”

(-_o)