@StateDept Contracting Officer Zaldy N. Sabino Convicted of Bribery and Procurement Fraud

 

This is a follow-up to our post on April 16, 2019 @StateDept Contracting Officer Faces 17-Count Indictment For Bribery and Procurement Fraud.  On October 4, 2019, the Justice Department announced the conviction of State Department Contracting officer Zaldy N. Zabino of  13 counts of conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud and making false statements.

State Department Contracting Officer Convicted of Bribery and Procurement Fraud

A contracting officer with the U.S. Department of State was convicted today of conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud and making false statements.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Special Agent in Charge Marc Meyer of the U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector General and Assistant Director in Charge Timothy R. Slater of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.

Zaldy N. Sabino, 60, of Fort Washington, Maryland, was convicted of 13 counts of conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud and making false statements.  Sentencing has been set for Feb. 14, 2020.

Sabino was indicted in April 2019.  According to the indictment, between November 2012 and early 2017, Sabino and the owner of a Turkish construction firm allegedly engaged in a bribery and procurement fraud scheme in which Sabino received at least $239,300 in cash payments from the Turkish owner while Sabino supervised multi-million dollar construction contracts awarded to the Turkish owner’s business partners and while Sabino made over a half million dollars in structured cash deposits into his personal bank accounts.  Sabino allegedly concealed his unlawful relationship by, among other things, making false statements on financial disclosure forms and during his background reinvestigation.

The Department of State’s Office of Inspector General, led by Steve A. Linick, and the FBI’s Washington Field Office investigated the case.  Trial Attorney Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Hanly of the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case.

An indictment is merely an allegation.  All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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@StateDept Contracting Officer Faces 17-Count Indictment For Bribery and Procurement Fraud

On April 4, the Justice Department announced a 17-count indictment charging State Department contracting officer, Zaldy N. Sabino with conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud, and making false statements. The indictment notes that the defendant was employed by the State Department beginning in or about November 2004 at AQM, the Office of Acquisitions Management:

“SABINO served as a contract specialist with AQM, and he was also a contracting officer who was authorized to execute certain contracts on behalf of the DOS. SABINO worked in AQM’s Facilities Design Construction Division (“FDCD”) in Arlington, Virginia. FDCD supported and administered contracts involving the DOS’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (“OBO”). OBO frequently awarded contracts to international construction companies seeking to do business and perform design-build contracts at U.S. embassies and consular buildings.”

The Office of Acquisitions Management under the Bureau of Administration (A/OPE/AQM) manages, plans, and directs the Department’s acquisition programs and conducts contract operations in support of activities worldwide. A/OPE/AQM provides the full range of professional contract management services including acquisition planning, contract negotiations, cost and price analysis, and contract administration.

Via USDOJ:

A 17-count indictment was unsealed today charging Zaldy N. Sabino, a contracting officer with the U.S. Department of State, with conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud, and making false statements. 

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Inspector General Steve A. Linick of the U.S. Department of State and Assistant Director in Charge Nancy McNamara of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.

According to the indictment, between November 2012 and early 2017, Sabino and the owner of a Turkish construction firm allegedly engaged in a bribery and procurement fraud scheme in which Sabino received at least $239,300 in cash payments from the Turkish owner while Sabino supervised multi-million dollar construction contracts awarded to the Turkish owner’s business partners and while Sabino made over a half million in structured cash deposits into his personal bank accounts.  Sabino allegedly concealed his unlawful relationship by, among other things, making false statements on financial disclosure forms and during his background reinvestigation.

The case is being investigated by the Department of State’s Office of Inspector General and the FBI’s Washington Field Office.  Trial Attorney Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Hanly of the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case. 

An indictment is merely an allegation.  All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Read the original announcement here.

Under “Means and Manner of Conspiracy”, the Indictment enumerates multiple cash payments and withdrawals. Allegation includes “deposited cash into bank accounts maintained by SABINO and his wife, and SABINO paid cash towards his credit card and line of credit accounts (hereafter collectively referred to as “cash deposits”). The cash deposits totaled approximately $507,543.93.” Another allegation includes withdrawal of approximately $239,300″ involving “approximately 396 ATM transactions. ” The indictment alleges that “the majority of these transactions occurred in the lobby of a DOS building” in Arlington, Virginia and BOA branches located near the defendant’s residence in Fort Washington, Maryland.

The unsealed indictment is available to read here: Download Sabino Indictment

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The Purposeful and Targeted Cultivation of a Relationship with a Consular Officer

Posted: 1:04 am EDT
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Former FSO Michael T. Sestak was arrested in Thailand on May 7, 2013. He was initially arraigned on September 13, 2013 and pled guilty on November 6, 2013.  He is scheduled to be sentenced on August 14 before Judge John D. Bates at the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia. The USG is recommending (#303) that Mr. Sestak be sentenced to a term of 84 months of incarceration followed by 3 years of supervised release.

The USG in its memorandum in aid of sentencing writes:

The U.S. State Department is dedicated to administering its visa programs fairly and without graft or corruption. SESTAK and his co-conspirators damaged the reputation of the U.S. State Department by tainting the process and likely preventing deserving applicants from obtaining visas.

This was not a momentary lapse in judgment for any of the conspirators, including SESTAK. This was a sophisticated scheme that exploited a system and made millions of dollars after months of careful planning and substantial efforts to cover their tracks.
[….]
SESTAK has provided substantial assistance to the government from the time of his initial detention on May 9, 2013. On that date, the defendant waived his Miranda rights and agreed to be interviewed. During this initial interview, the defendant acknowledged his guilt and provided investigators with information regarding the conspiracy, including details about how the scheme actually operated and how the proceeds were laundered and moved out of Vietnam. While SESTAK was somewhat naïve and uninformed about the full extent of the conspiracy and the deep involvement of Binh Vo’s family members, he never minimized his own critical role in the scheme.

Mr. Sestak’s lawyer, Gray B. Broughton in his court filing argues that as of August 14, 2015, Mr. Sestak will have already forfeited over twenty-seven (27) months of his liberty in facilities designed for short-term detention and that a thirty-three (33) month sentence will serve as adequate punishment. “As a result of his indictment and conviction, Michael lost his job with the State Department and will never again be able to work in a similar capacity in public service. Even worse than the incarceration and job loss is Michael Sestak’s loss of reputation. The amount of shame and contrition that Michael Sestak continues to carry with him cannot be overstated. The loss of one’s profession and reputation is a severe punishment that serves the retributive goals of sentencing.” 

We will keep tabs on the sentencing set for Friday morning. Meanwhile, below is an excerpt from the court filing which is instructive, particularly, the emails exchanged by some of the conspirators.  If you’re a consular officer and somebody wants to make you an “honorary” brother, or sister, some other pretend relative, or fairy godparent, you gotta run as fast and as far away as possible!

This is what a purposeful and targeted cultivation of a relationship with a consular officer overseas looks like.  Note that this is an excerpt from the defense filing:

When Michael arrived in Vietnam, he had hit a personal low. Michael had become dissatisfied working for the State Department and had contemplated resigning at the end of his assignment to Poland. Michael had witnessed others being promoted who he believed were less deserving than he was. To make matters worse, Michael’s involvement in the fruitless search for WMD throughout Iraq shook his previously unwavering trust in the United States Government.
[…]
Most significantly, when Michael arrived in Vietnam, his personal life was totally unfulfilling. Within his first year assigned to Vietnam, Michael turned 40. Michael was unmarried, had no children, and no serious prospects for finding someone to share life together.  One aspect of being a Foreign Service Officer was that Michael changed countries every two years, usually coming back to Washington D.C. for several months in between for training. In both Spain and Poland, Michael had a girlfriend that he met towards the end of his tour. Unable to further develop these relationships in such a short amount of time, Michael arrived at his next assignment unaccompanied. It was during these transitions that Michael began to question the meaning of life and finding true happiness.
[…]
It was during this time and with this personal baggage that Michael first met Binh Vo. They met at Michael’s very first Consulate event in Vietnam in August 2010. Binh Vo and a Vietnamese businessman approached Michael and started talking. Binh Vo and Michael were approximately the same age; similarly, Binh Vo was American and well-educated.
[…]
Binh Vo slowly became Michael’s closest confident. Their friendship developed to the point where they met almost daily for meals or coffee. Binh Vo introduced Michael to his siblings, who went out of their way to include Michael in “family-only” functions. Binh Vo’s siblings referred to Michael as an honorary “Vo” brother. This circle of new-found friends constituted roughly 80% of Michael’s social activity in Vietnam. As described above, Michael was unable to develop any real friendships with American employees at the Consulate and he didn’t really have any Vietnamese friends; the few Vietnamese men that Michael met who ran in the same circles would ultimately harass Michael for visa “favors.” For the first year and four months of Michael’s time in Vietnam, Binh Vo was the only single male with whom he could communicate and socialize without reporting requirements because Binh Vo was American. Additionally, Binh Vo was always available, had a comparable level of education, and didn’t ask any favors.

Michael felt very fortunate to have stumbled upon a great relationship with Binh Vo and his family. Michael was unaware that Binh Vo and his family had targeted Michael from the onset and that every coffee, meal, family dinner, and drink was an orchestrated, results-driven event with the end goal of executing Binh Vo’s scheme to fraudulently sell non-immigrant visas to Vietnamese citizens.

As the Government stated in its sentencing memorandum for Binh Vo, Binh Vo “purposefully cultivated a relationship with Sestak in order to recruit him to approve visas for the conspiracy.” Government Mem., Doc. 289 at 8. Binh Vo exploited the weakness that Michael tried to hide, but some easily saw.
[…]

The Government’s sentencing memorandum illustrates how Binh Vo and his family preyed on Michael’s weakness and transformed him from a law-abiding officer and government official into a willing participant of the Vo’s scheme to enrich themselves:

The defendant [Binh Vo] orchestrated the visa fraud conspiracy from beginning to end. During the summer of 2011, according to electronic communications between the defendant [Binh Vo]’s sister and another co-conspirator, [Binh Vo] cultivated a relationship with [Michael] Sestak in order to get Sestak to approve visas for their family and acquaintances.

In a Google chat dated June 1, 2011, co-defendant Hong Vo stated to an acquaintance:

[L]ast 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 wth [sic]… 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.

In an email dated June 1, 2011, co-defendant Hong Vo stated to her boyfriend:

This guy who works for the US consulate here came out and joined us for dinner. He’s the guy that approves Visas for Vietnamese people to go to the United States so he’s a really good connection to have. My brother plans on using him to get [a sister-in-law’s] Visa to go to the States so [the sister-in-law] will most likely travel back with me in August . . . he just likes to people watch — he does this with the consulate guy (Mike) and they check out girls.

In a Google chat dated June 27, 2011, co-defendant Hong Vo again discussed the sister-in-law referenced in the above paragraph.

I applied for her Visa … so her interview is July 13th … and i told the consulate guy … so he said he’ll pull her file … but now he knows our family … so he’s more trusting … but she’ll most likely get accepted this time … because Mike will pull up her file … and he considers Binh like his best friend.

In another Google chat dated June 27, 2011, co-defendant Hong Vo discussed Sestak:

I have to go out now… it’s freaking 11P and Binh forgot it was Mike’s birthday… this loser guy who works for the consulate but we have to go out because he’s going to help us get [the sister-in-law’s] visa ugh

The USG in its court filing says that “the conduct that led to the present charges appears to be significantly out of character for the defendant.” It has also credited Mr. Sestak for accepting responsibility for his actions and for expression of remorse:

As far as the government is aware, prior to these offenses SESTAK had an unblemished record first as a as a police officer, then a Deputy United States Marshal, a U.S. Naval Intelligence Officer, and finally as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. The fact that he immediately accepted responsibility for his actions at the time of his initial detention and agreed to cooperate with the government from that day forward supports the government’s belief that the defendant is not a career criminal. The defendant’s cooperation has included numerous meetings and debriefings and significant assistance with the sale of the condominiums in Thailand that he purchased with the illegal proceeds from the scheme. Since the time of his initial detention in May 2013, the defendant has repeatedly expressed shame and genuine remorse for his actions.

Mr. Sestak faces 19-24 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. The USG is asking for 84 months or 7 years and three years of supervised release. Defense is asking for 33 months. We’ll have to wait until August 14 to hear Judge Bates’ decision.

We’ve posted a couple of the publicly available Sestak documents in the forum’s Document Dump for friends of the blog. Click here to login. It looks like all of Mr. Sestak’s cooperation with the government is related to the cases against the other conspirators and the disposal of properties purchased through illegal proceeds.  We want to know how can the next Sestak be prevented from happening; he maybe in the best position to answer that question. We’ve requested to do an interview with him after the sentencing.  Will keep you posted.

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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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Michael T. Sestak Visa Scandal: Two Co-Conspirators Sentenced to 10 Months and 16 Months

— Domani Spero

On November 6, 2013, USDOJ announced that Michael T. Sestak, the former Nonimmigrant Visa Section Chief at the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City had pleaded guilty to “receiving more than $3 million in bribes” in exchange for U.S. visas.  Two women were also charged in the visa fraud-bribery conspiracy:  Hong Vo, 27, an American citizen, and Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, a Vietnamese citizen.  On September 24, 2013, US authorities arrested Binh Vo, a U.S. citizen and another of the remaining alleged co-conspirators at the Washington Dulles International Airport.  The last one of the alleged co-conspirators, Anhdao Thuy Nguyen, 30, a Vietnamese citizen, and Bihn Vo’s wife remains at large.

On Febraury 4, 2014, court records indicate that the case of ANHDAO T. NGUYEN was “directly reassigned to Calendar Committee as she has been a fugitive for more than 90 days.”

On March 7, 2014, BINH TANG VO was arraigned on Counts 1ss,2ss-14ss,15ss-27ss, and 28ss before Judge John D. Bates. Plea of NOT GUILTY was entered by BINH TANG VO as to all Counts of the Superseding Information.

In the case of  Vietnamese national Truc Tranh Huynh, court records indicate that sentencing was held onFebruary 21, 2014 before Judge John D. Bates as to Ms. Huynh (5) on Count 23s. Defendant was sentenced to Sixteen (16) months of incarceration and Twelve (12) months of Supervised Release; Special Assessment of $100. Defendant committed; commitment issued.  She previously entered a plea agreement in October last year.

According to court records, defendant Hong Vo also pleaded guilty to one count of a criminal information arising out of her participation in a wide spread visa fraud scheme.  The Government’s memorandum in aid of sentencing filed by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen, Jr. on the case of Ms. Vo says in part:

 The defendant’s participation in this multi-million dollar scheme implicated both the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and, thus, warrants an appropriately strong sentence. The need for proper deterrence is especially important where, as here, individuals could be drawn into a scheme in the hope of procuring a financial windfall. A 16 month sentence would have a real deterrent effect and will serve as a clear warning to anyone tempted to defraud the U.S. State Department’s visa-issuing procedures for financial gain.

Court records indicate that this case had also been resolved:

Sentencing held on 3/7/2014 as to HONG CHAU VO (4), before Judge John D. Bates on Count 1ss: Defendant sentenced to Ten (10) months split sentence: Seven (7) and a half months of incarceration and Two (2) and a half months of Home Detention; Thirty (30) months of Supervised Release. Special Assessment of $100.00. All counts of Indictment and the Superseding Indictment are dismissed as to this defendant. Defendant remains in 3rd Party custody.

On March 10, 2014, defendant Michael T. Sestak submitted a status report on the disposition of his real properties in Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand as part of his plea agreement:

Since the last report filed on January 24, 2014, Mr. Sestak has engaged Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates, to act as his agent in Thailand. Mr. Sestak is in the process of authorizing this firm to act on his behalf. […] Attorneys at Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates in Thailand have met with potential appraisers for the Phuket and Bangkok properties. Attorneys at Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates have also spoken with potential brokers in Phuket and have several meetings planned this week with several additional brokers.

Case title: USA v. SESTAK et al; Magistrate judge case number: 1:13-mj-00463-AK

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USDOJ: FSO Michael Todd Sestak Charged With Conspiracy to Defraud and Conspiracy to Commit Bribery and Visa Fraud

We have blogged previously about this case:

On June 4, the Department of Justice released the following statement:

U.S. Foreign Service Officer Charged With Conspiracy To Defraud the United States and to Commit Bribery and Visa Fraud – Scheme Allegedly Yielded Millions of Dollars in Bribes-

WASHINGTON – A U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Michael Todd Sestak, 41, has been arrested and charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to commit bribery and visa fraud, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Director Gregory B. Starr announced today.

Sestak appeared this afternoon before the Honorable Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He was arrested on May 13, 2013, in California and had been ordered held without bond following a hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. He was removed to the District of Columbia, where the criminal complaint, dated May 6, 2013, was filed against him. Magistrate Judge Robinson ordered that he remain in custody pending further court proceedings.

According to the government’s evidence, 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.

The investigation revealed that, beginning sometime in or around March 2012, Sestak agreed to approve visas to the United States for a fee.  According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, he conspired with other U.S. citizens and Vietnamese citizens who worked to recruit customers – or to recruit other recruiters – to the visa scheme. Co-conspirators reached out to people in Vietnam and the United States and advertised a money-back guarantee for a visa to the United States.  They particularly advertised that they could obtain visas for people who would not be able to obtain a visa on their own, such as people who had been previously denied or refused entry into the U.S.  They encouraged customers with the idea that they could overstay their visas and disappear in the United States.

The affidavit alleges that co-conspirators assisted visa applicants with their applications and prepared them for their consular interviews.  Upon submitting an application, the applicants would receive an appointment at the Consulate, be interviewed by Sestak, and approved for a visa.  Applicants or their families paid between $20,000 and $70,000 per visa.

Applicants paid for their visas in Vietnam, or by routing money to co-conspirators in the United States.  According to the affidavit, Sestak received several million dollars in bribes in exchange for approving the visas.  He ultimately moved the money out of Vietnam by using money launderers through off-shore banks.  Co-conspirators also had money laundered through off-shore banks to bank accounts in the United States, the affidavit alleges.

To date, the investigation has seized over $2 million from a co-conspirator’s investment account in the United States.

Two women have been charged in the scheme.They are Hong Vo, 27, an American citizen, and Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, a Vietnamese citizen, who are charged with conspiring with Sestak and others. Vo allegedly assisted with the recruitment of visa applicants and communicated with others about the payment for the fraudulent visas. According to charging documents, fraudulent visas granted by Sestak were connected to an Internet Protocol (“IP”) address controlled by 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 Vo.

Vo was recently arrested in Denver and is being held there while awaiting removal to the District of Columbia. Huynh was arrested June 3, 2013, and appeared today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She remains held without bond pending further proceedings.

Charges contained in criminal complaints are merely allegations that a defendant has committed a violation of criminal laws and every defendant is presumed innocent until, and unless, proven guilty.

The case is being investigated by the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brenda J. Johnson and Mona N. Sahaf of the National Security Section and Catherine K. Connelly of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section.

13-194

 

Original statement is available online here.

(._.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

US Embassy Caracas FSN Arrested on Conspiracy/Bribery Charges in Visa Applications Scheme

Via DOJ, the following press statement dated May 7, 2012:

U.S. Embassy Employee Arrested on Conspiracy and Bribery Charges in Scheme Involving Visa Applications
– Defendant Worked at Embassy in Venezuela –

WASHINGTON – A visa assistant for the United States Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, has been arrested on federal charges stemming from a scheme in which he allegedly accepted payments to aid people in facilitating visa applications, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and Scott Bultrowicz, Director of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, announced today.

Christian Adolfo Paredes Uzcategui, 43, of Caracas, Venezuela, was arrested May 4, 2012, in Washington, D.C., on one charge of conspiracy and two charges of bribery. He appeared today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He pled not guilty and remains in custody pending a hearing on May 21, 2012. If convicted, the defendant could face up to five years in prison for the conspiracy charge and between two and 15 years for the bribery charges.

According to the charging documents, Paredes has been employed at the Embassy in Caracas since May 1997 and most recently worked in the Embassy’s Consular Section. As a visa assistant, he had access to Embassy databases and assisted in the processing of visa applications submitted by foreign nationals seeking entry into the United States.

Between March 2011 and January 2012, according to the charging papers, Paredes allegedly conspired with another individual to obtain illegal payments in exchange for facilitating applications for United States non-immigrant visas. The charging documents state that Paredes received more than $10,000 from the other individual, who was working with people who previously had been denied visas.

The filing of a criminal charge is merely an allegation that defendants have committed a violation of criminal law and is not evidence of guilt. Every defendant is presumed innocent until, and unless, proven guilty in a court of law.
This case is being investigated by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and is being prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney David Mudd of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

The original statement is here.

This report only says that the Foreign Service National employee (also known as LES or Locally Employed Staff) was arrested in Washington, D.C. Since Mr. Paredes is habitually a resident of Caracas, Venezuela, one has to wonder what he was doing in Washington, D.C. Of course, he could have been in the district on a personal trip, but why would he visit Washington, D.C. instead of say, Orlando, New York or Los Angeles.  Unless, he was in the district to attend a training course at FSI. Which was how, Jordanian national, Osama Esam Saleem Ayesh of US Embassy in Baghdad was charged with Theft of Public Funds and Conflict of Interest. That one was actually arrested as he got off the plane in Dulles on his way to attend a State Department training course in Arlington, Virginia.

Domani Spero