US Embassy Santo Domingo: Man Pleads Guilty to One Count of Bribery of a Public Official

On September 14, USDOJ announced that Luis Santos of New Jersey pleaded guilty to bribing a State Department employee.  Santos admitted to paying $2,381 to a U.S. Consular Adjudicator at the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo.

Bergen County, New Jersey, Man Admits Bribing State Department Employee

TRENTON, N.J. – A Bergen County, New Jersey, man today admitted giving a bribe to an employee of the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

Luis Santos, 37, of Teaneck, New Jersey, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Michael A. Shipp in Trenton federal court to an information charging him with one count of bribery of a public official.

According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court:

Santos paid $2,381 to a U.S. Consular Adjudicator in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to favorably handle and review non-immigrant visas, which allowed individuals from the Dominican Republic to apply for entry into the United States.

The bribery charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 18, 2018.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the U.S Department of State Diplomatic Security Service with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen D. Stringer of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.

Defense counsel: Thomas Ambrosio Esq., Lyndhurst, New Jersey

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Based on court filings (PDF), a cooperating witness (“CW”) was employed by the State Department as a U.S Consular Adjudicator in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

2. From on or about September 22, 2017 to on or about March 9, 2018, SANTOS contacted the CW via WhatsApp and solicited the CW to participate in a bribery and fraud scheme, whereby SANTOS would pay money to the CW in exchange for the CW favorably handling and adjudicating fraudulent NIVs.

3. Throughout in or about February 2018, SANTOS sent the CW, via WhatsApp messaging, the names and appointment confirmations for five NIV Applicants, all of whom had interviews scheduled with the U.S. Consulate in Santo Domingo in or about March 2018 ( collectively, the “March Applicants”). SANTOS offered to pay the CW $500 for each fraudulent NIV issued to one of the March Applicants.

4. On or about February 25, 2018, SANTOS and the CW met in Hoboken, New Jersey (the “Hoboken Meeting”). During that meeting, which was consensually recorded by law enforcement, SANTOS confirmed that the March Applicants would pay $1,000 each for their fraudulent NIVs, and that the money would be split three ways, with a portion going to the CW in exchange for the CW favorably reviewing and adjudicating the five NIVs.

5. Law enforcement arranged for the issuance of what appeared to be genuine visas for the March Applicants. Accordingly, when each of the March Applicants appeared for their respective interviews, they were informed that their applications had been approved.

6. On or about March 9, 2018, SANTOS caused a relative in the Dominican Republic to wire $2,380.95 ($2,500 less the transfer service processing fee) to the CW via a money transferring service in exchange for the approval of NIVs for the five March Applicants.

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Binh Tang Vo Gets 8 Years For Conspiring With Former U.S. Consulate Official in Visa Scheme

Posted: 3:42 pm EDT
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We have previously blogged about the Sestak visa scheme in this blog (see Michael T. Sestak Visa Scandal: Two Co-Conspirators Sentenced to 10 Months and 16 MonthsFSO Michael T. Sestak Pleads Guilty in Visa Fraud-Bribery Case, Faces 19-24 Years in Prison). Last month, the Justice Department announced that Binh Tang Vo, a U.S. citizen and one of the alleged conspirators pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in prison plus forfeiture of nearly $5.1 million. Court records indicate that Michaell Sestak’s sentencing had been rescheduled for this month.

Via USDOJ:

Man Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison for Conspiring With Former U.S. Consulate Official in Visa Scheme | Vietnam-Based Scheme Yielded Millions of Dollars in Bribes

WASHINGTON  Binh Tang Vo, 41, an American citizen who had been living in Vietnam, was sentenced today to eight years in prison on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and visa fraud, bribery of a public official, and conspiracy to commit money laundering, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Vincent H. Cohen, Jr. and Bill A. Miller, Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS).

Vo pled guilty to the charges in March 2015 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The plea agreement, which was contingent upon the Court’s approval, called for a prison sentence between six and eight years, as well as forfeiture of nearly $5.1 million. The Honorable Emmet G. Sullivan accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Vo accordingly today.

Vo was arrested on Sept. 24, 2013, at Washington Dulles International Airport and has been held without bond ever since.

According to a statement of facts in support of his guilty plea, Vo conspired with co-defendant Michael Sestak and others to obtain visas to the United States for Vietnamese citizens.  Sestak was the Non-Immigrant Visa Chief in the Consular Section of the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from August 2010 to September 2012.

As outlined in the statement of facts, Vo and Sestak conspired with other U.S. citizens and Vietnamese citizens to advertise the scheme and recruit customers. Co-conspirators reached out to people in Vietnam and the United States and advertised the scheme by creating a website and by spreading the word through emails and telephone calls.  The conspirators told potential customers that once the customers obtained a visa from the scheme, they could disappear, get married or return to Vietnam and be assured of receiving visas in the future.

Vo and his co-conspirators received biographical information and photographs from customers and assisted them with their visa applications.  Upon submitting an application, the applicant would receive an appointment at the Consulate, be interviewed by Sestak, and approved for a visa. Applicants or their families generally paid between $30,000 and $60,000 per visa.  Nearly 500 fraudulent visas were issued as a result of the conspiracy.

Applicants paid for their visas in Vietnam, or by routing money to co-conspirators in the United States.  Vo admitted to receiving millions of dollars for arranging for Sestak to approve the visas.  He ultimately moved some of the money out of Vietnam by using money launderers to move funds through off-shore banks.  Co-conspirators also had money laundered through off-shore banks to bank accounts in the United States.

“Binh Vo conspired with a corrupt U.S. Consulate Official to collect bribes in exchange for issuing visas that allowed nearly 500 Vietnamese nationals to enter the United States,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Cohen.  “Binh Vo and his family members recruited bribe-paying customers by telling them that once in the United States they could disappear or get married.  He collected millions of dollars in bribes by undermining the integrity of the process used to screen foreign visitors to our country.  This prison sentence demonstrates our commitment to preserving the integrity of a process that is critical to our national security.”

“The U.S. visa is one of the most coveted travel documents in the world. Foreign nationals who acquire visas fraudulently to enter the United States could do so in order to carry out any number of criminal activities, including terrorism,” said Director Miller. “This case demonstrates Diplomatic Security’s unwavering commitment to investigating visa fraud and ensuring that those who commit this crime are brought to justice.”

Sestak, 44, pled guilty in November 2013 to one count each of conspiracy to commit bribery and visa fraud and to defraud the United States, bribery of a public official, and conspiracy to engage in monetary transactions in property derived from illegal activity. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 1, 2015.

Hong Vo, 29, an American citizen, and Truc Thanh Huynh, 31, a Vietnamese citizen, also pled guilty to conspiring with Sestak and Binh Vo.  Hong Vo is Binh Vo’s sister, and Truc Thanh Huynh is Binh Vo’s cousin. Hong Vo was sentenced in March 2014 to seven months in prison and three months of home detention. Truc Tranh Huynh was sentenced in February 2014 to 16 months of incarceration.

According to the statement of facts, fraudulent visas granted by Sestak were connected to an Internet Protocol (“IP”) address controlled by Hong Vo. Huynh allegedly participated in the visa scheme by obtaining documents necessary for the visa applications, collecting money and providing model questions and answers for visa applicants.  Sestak also allegedly approved a visa for Huynh to the United States, the application for which was submitted by the IP address controlled by Hong Vo.

The case was investigated and prosecuted by the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brenda J. Johnson, Alessio D. Evangelista of the National Security Section, and Catherine K. Connelly and Jennifer Ambuehl of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, as well former Assistant U.S Attorneys Christopher Kavanaugh, and Mona N. Sahaf.

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