Ex-FSO Michael Sestak Released From Prison on January 4, 2018

Posted: 2:33  am ET

 

In August 2015, former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Michael T. Sestak, 44, was sentenced to 64 months in prison on federal charges in a scheme where he accepted more than $3 million in bribes to process visas for non-immigrants seeking entry to the United States. The Federal Bureau of Prisons locator indicates that he was scheduled to be released from prison on January 4, 2018. The 2015 USDOJ announcement notes that following his prison term, Sestak will be placed on three years of supervised release.

See this piece on the Sestak case. See below our posts on this case with some unanswered questions.

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What’s Next For Former FSO Michael Sestak, Plus Some Unanswered Questions

Posted: 2:05 pm EDT
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On August 14, 2015, former FSO Michael T. Sestak was sentenced to 64 months imprisonment for receiving over $3 million in bribes in exchange for visas at the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

The Preliminary Consent Order of Forfeiture filed in the District Court of Columbia includes forfeiture of a) “any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the offense;” and  b) “a money judgment equal to the value of any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the offense.”

The consent order identifies 1) any and all funds and securities seized from Scottrade Account #XXXX001S, held in the name of Anhdao Thuy Nguyen (“Scottrade Account”); and 2) $198,199.13 seized from the Department of Treasury from the Treasury Suspense Account under Seizure Number 38l30010—O1 (“Treasury Account”); and 3) a money judgment in the amount of at least $6,021,440.58, for which the defendant (Sestak) is jointly and severally liable with any co-conspirators ordered to pay a forfeiture money judgment as a result of a conviction for either offense.

In the plea agreement, Sestak agreed to sell nine properties in Thailand and that the proceeds would be paid to the United
States to satisfy a portion of the money judgment entered against him. The consent order also notes that “upon entry of a forfeiture order, Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.2(b)(3) authorizes the Attorney General or a designee to conduct any discovery the Court considers proper in identifying, locating, or disposing of property subject to forfeiture.”

In a pre-sentencing filing,  Mr. Sestak requested that any term of incarceration occur in a Camp-level facility. Specifically, at FCI Miami or if that’s not available, FCI Pensacola.  Defense justification is based on Sestak’s “lack of criminal history, the non-violent nature of the crimes, his cooperation with the Government, his lifetime of public service, his age, education, and status as a trustee during his pretrial confinement at Northern Neck Regional Jail.”‘

We had a chance to ask a few questions from his lawyer, Gray Broughton; we wanted to know where will be the location of his incarceration.

“The Bureau of Prisons will ultimately make a determination as to where Mr. Sestak is incarcerated,” said Mr. Broughton.  The defense lawyer again cited the nonviolent nature of the crimes and Mr. Sestak’s “clean criminal history.”  Mr. Sestak should be housed in a lower security level facility, according to his lawyer and that his prior employment with the U.S. Marshal will be taken into consideration by the Bureau of Prison.
We asked about the plea deals received by Sestak and main co-conspirator Bihn Vo.   Sestak’s lawyer believed the government made the best deal it could:

Mr. Sestak received a sentence of 64 months – 32 months less than codefendant Binh Vo, who received a sentence of 96 months. The Government will end up getting roughly $5M from Binh Vo – the $3M it already seized and the $2M he has agreed to pay in the next year. Binh Vo’s money (and his wife) are all currently outside of the U.S., so the U.S. doesn’t have any control over either. It made the best deal it felt it could with Binh Vo.

We were also interested in the duration of the sentence. By our calculation, Mr. Sestak would be almost 50 by the time he completes his sentence.  Mr. Broughton, however, told us that “assuming good behavior, Mr. Sestak would serve 85% of the sentence.” He will reportedly also get credit for the 27 months he has been in jail since his arrest, towards his sentence. We’re not sure if he’ll get credit for the full 27 months. But if that’s the case, and if our math is correct, he’d be out between 2-3 years.

We asked what happened to the 500 visa applicants that Mr. Sestak had issued visas to in Vietnam. And if Mr. Sestak was asked to help track or account for the applicants who paid bribes for their visas. Mr. Broughton said, “I don’t know what happened to the visa applicants. I am not aware of any efforts by the US Government in that regard.”

Mr. Broughton also released the following statement after the sentencing:

**
Michael Sestak received a fair, well-reasoned sentence today. The Court had the unenviable task of taking a multitude of opposing factors into consideration in devising Mr. Sestak’s sentence. 

As counsel for the U.S. Government readily admitted during Mr. Sestak’s sentencing hearing, Binh Vo was the mastermind of the visa fraud conspiracy. Binh Vo also had the largest pecuniary gain and will likely have millions of dollars waiting for him upon his release – along with his wife Alice Nguyen, who was able to avoid prosecution as a result of Binh Vo’s plea agreement. The Court appeared to appreciate that a sentence greater than or equal to Binh Vo’s sentence of 8 years would be fundamentally unjust for Michael Sestak, even though the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines recommended a sentence of approximately 20 years.
 
What made things difficult for the Court in determining an appropriate sentence is that Mr. Sestak was an essential component to the conspiracy and a public servant who had taken an oath of loyalty to his Country. It was Mr. Sestak’s status as a public official and the theory that would-be criminals will think twice before committing similar crimes that caused the Court to sentence Michael Sestak to something greater than time served.
 
Ultimately, the Court balanced these countervailing factors by issuing a sentence of 64 months – 32 months less than codefendant Binh Vo, who received a sentence of 96 months.
 
Michael Sestak is a good man who made made a huge mistake. Even after his release from prison, Mr. Sestak’s actions – and the shame that follows – will haunt him forever.
**

 

With the case concluded for all charged co-conspirators, we thought we’d asked the State Department what systemic changes had Consular Affairs instituted at USCG Ho Chi Minh City and worldwide following the Sestak incident.

The State Department, on background says this:

The Bureau of Consular Affairs takes all allegations of malfeasance seriously and continually works to improve its operations. Following any detection of vulnerabilities, CA works to improve management controls and guidance to the field. After the incident in Ho Chi Minh City, the management controls at post were comprehensively reviewed to determine what improvements could be made to their processes. As a matter of policy, we do not discuss the specifics of internal management controls.

Most of the Sestak visa cases were allegedly previous refusals. If true, we don’t quite understand how one officer could overturn so many visa refusals and issue close to 500 visas without red flags, if consular management controls worked as they should.  We wanted to know what consequences will there be for supervisors, embassy senior officials and principal officers who fail to do their required oversight on visas. And by the way, what about those who also do not follow the worldwide visa referral policy, particularly, Front Office occupants? The State Department would only say this:

As a matter of policy we do not discuss specific internal personnel actions. Protecting the integrity of the U.S. visa is a top priority of the U.S. government. We have zero tolerance for malfeasance. We work closely with our law enforcement partners to vigorously investigate all allegations of visa fraud. When substantiated, we seek to prosecute and punish those involved to the fullest extent of the law.

We imagined that the Bureau of Consular Affair’s Consular Integrity Division would be tasked with reviewing procedures and lessons learned on what went wrong in the Sestak case. We wanted to know if that’s the case and wanted to ask questions from the office tasked with the responsibility of minimizing a repeat of the Sestak case. Here is the official response:

The Consular Integrity Division regularly reviews incidents of malfeasance or impropriety and makes recommendations for procedural changes to reduce vulnerabilities and updates training materials for adjudicators and managers based on the lessons learned, including the case in Ho Chi Minh City. The Consular Integrity Division also does reports on the management controls at overseas posts, as well as reports that review global management controls issues, which inform CA leadership about any issues of concern.

No can do.  So far, we’ve only learned that the CID reviewed incidents of malfeasance including the Sestak case but it doesn’t tell us if it did a specific report on HCMC and what systemic changes, if any, were actually made.

We tried again. With a different question: According to in country reports, USCG Ho Chi Minh City received a letter from a jilted man in central Vietnam that helped DS crack the Sestak case. ConGen Ho Chi Minh City is one of the few consular posts that actually has a Regional Security Officer-Investigator, dedicated to visa investigations. If this case started with this reportedly jilted lover, the question then becomes how come neither the RSO-I or the internal consular management controls did not trip up the FSO accused in this case? If there was no anonymous source, would the authorities have discovered what was right under their noses?

As a matter of policy, we do not discuss the details of investigations. Protecting the integrity of the U.S. visa is a top priority of the U.S. government. We continually work to improve its operations, both in the field and here in Washington DC.

Ugh! Sestak was charged in May 2013. In July that year, the State Department told Fox News it was reviewing thoroughly alleged “improprieties” regarding a consular official in Guyana allegedly trading visas for money and possibly sex. In another article in 2014,  former Peace Corps, Dan Lavin,  said, “The State Department makes millions off of the poorest people in the world just by selling them the opportunity to fill out the application.” He also made the following allegation: “There are people at the embassy who can get you a visa,” Lavin said. “If you’re a Sierra Leonean, you go to a man called a ‘broker’; you then pay that ‘broker’ $10,000 and he personally gives that money to someone at the embassy who in turn gets you a visa.”  Apparently,  when asked about the accusations, a spokesperson at the U.S. embassy in Freetown declined to comment.

In any case, we also wanted to know if there were systemic changes with the State Department’s RSO-I program and how they support consular sections worldwide? Or to put it another way, we were interested on any changes Diplomatic Security had implemented in the aftermath of the Sestak case. Here is the amazing grace response, still on background:

It is the mission of DS special agents assigned as Assistant Regional Security Officer-Investigators (ARSO-I) to find fraud in the countries where they serve.

Sigh, we know that already. We thought we’d also ask about those 489 Vietnamese who got their visas under this scheme. What happened to them? Did Diplomatic Security, DHS or some other agency tracked them down?

The Bureau of Consular Affairs conducted a review of visas issued by Mr. Sestak. The Department revoked those visas that were improperly issued. If the visa holder had already travelled to the United States on the improperly issued visa, the Department of State notified the Department of Homeland Security so that agency could take action as appropriate.

We don’t know how many “improperly issued” visas were revoked. All 489?

We don’t know how many of those able to travel to the U.S. were apprehended and/or deported to Vietnam.

Frankly, we don’t really know what happened to the 489 Vietnamese nationals who paid money to get visas.

Calvin Godfrey who covered this case from Vietnam writes:

State Department investigators managed to track down and interrogate a few, though they wouldn’t say how many. The Washington DC office of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency didn’t respond to a list of questions about their efforts to track them down.

We also don’t know how much was the total proceed from this illegal enterprise. The USG talks about $9.7 million but one of the co-conspirators in an email, talked $20 million. Below via Thanh Nien News:

Prosecutors only put the gang on the hook for a $9.7 million — a “conservative estimate” they came up with by multiplying $20,000 by 489. Statement written by Hong Vo the middle of the illicit ten-month visa auction:

“I can’t believe Binh has pretty much made over $20m with this business,” she wrote to her sister, identified only as Conspirator A.V. “Slow days… are like 3 clients… and that’s like 160k-180.”

 

Then there’s the individual who purportedly started this ball rolling in Vietnam. Below excerpted from Thanh Nien News:

The State Department was quick to crow over Vo’s sentencing, but it remains deeply disingenuous about how this case came about and what it means.

“This case demonstrates Diplomatic Security’s unwavering commitment to investigating visa fraud and ensuring that those who commit this crime are brought to justice,” crowed Bill Miller, the head of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) in a press release generated to mark Vo’s sentencing.

The problem there is that the whole case didn’t come about through careful oversight; it came about because a sad sack from Central Vietnam loaned his pregnant wife $20,000 to buy a US visa from Sestak and the Vos. Instead of coming home with their baby boy, she disappeared, married another man and blabbed about it on Facebook. The sad sack wrote rambling letters to the President and the State Department’s OIG trying to get his wife and money back.

That Vietnamese informant reportedly is a recipient of threats from some of the Sestak visa applicants. Poor sod. So, now, one of the co-conspirators got 7 months, another 16 months, Sestak got 5 years, Vo got 8 years,  one alleged co-conspirator was never charged, and we don’t know what happened to close to 500 visa applicants. Also, the USG gets less than half the $20 million alleged gains. It looks like, at least Vo, will not be flipping burgers when he gets out of prison.

Now life goes on.
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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

Related posts:

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FSO Michael T. Sestak Pleads Guilty in Visa Fraud-Bribery Case, Faces 19-24 Years in Prison

— Domani Spero

On November 6, 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.  The Government alleged that the visa scheme had netted more than $9 million in bribes (see related posts below) and that Mr. Sestak had personally received over $3 million in proceeds of the conspiracy, which he laundered through China into Thailand. No sentencing date has been set but Mr. Sestak faces 19-24 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.

Related posts:

Via USDOJ:

WASHINGTON  A U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Michael T. Sestak, 42, pled guilty today to conspiracy, bribery, and money laundering charges in a scheme in which he accepted more than $3 million in bribes to process visas for non-immigrants seeking entry to the United States.

The guilty plea, which took place in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was announced by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service Director Gregory B. Starr.

Sestak pled guilty before the Honorable John D. Bates 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. No sentencing date was set. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the applicable range for the offenses is 235 to 293 months in prison.

Under the plea agreement, Sestak has agreed to the forfeiture of the proceeds of the crimes, which includes the sale of nine properties that he purchased in Thailand with his ill-gotten gains. He also has agreed to cooperate in a continuing federal investigation.

“Today Michael Sestak admitted taking millions of dollars in bribes to issue visas to allow nearly 500 foreign nationals to enter the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Machen.  “This Foreign Service Officer corrupted the integrity of a process designed to screen visitors to the United States, a process that obviously has implications for our national security.  His motivation for betraying his oath of office was cold, hard cash, as he personally received more than $3 million in this visa-for-cash scam, much of which he funneled into the purchase of nine properties in Thailand.  Mr. Sestak has now accepted responsibility for his conduct and is cooperating with federal law enforcement in this continuing investigation.”

“The Department of State became aware of potential visa improprieties in Vietnam and immediately referred the allegations to the Diplomatic Security Service (DS) to investigate, said Director Starr, of the Diplomatic Security Service. “DS worked collaboratively with the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs to identify irregularities in the visa process which allowed agents and consular officials to pursue investigative leads and develop the evidence which led to Mr. Sestak’s guilty plea today.  This case demonstrates how cooperation with DS partners in the region allowed the Department of Justice to pursue charges where Vietnamese citizens were victimized by individuals guided by greed.”

Sestak was arrested on May 13, 2013, and has been in custody ever since. Four others have been charged with taking part in the conspiracy. They include Binh Vo, 39, and his sister, Hong Vo, 27, both American citizens who had been living in Vietnam; Binh Vo’s wife, Anhdao Dao Nguyen, 30, a Vietnamese citizen; and Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, a Vietnamese citizen.

Hong Vo was arrested in May 2013 and Huynh was arrested the following month. Binh Vo was arrested in September 2013. Nguyen remains at large, and a warrant has been issued for her arrest.  Huynh pled guilty on Oct. 16, 2013, to one count of visa fraud and is awaiting sentencing. Binh Vo and Hong Vo have pled not guilty to charges and are held without bond pending trial.

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.  His responsibilities included reviewing visa applications, conducting in-person interviews of visa applicants, and issuing visas when appropriate. While employed at the State Department, Sestak held a sensitive position.

In pleading guilty, Sestak admitted that he and Binh Vo met in Ho Chi Minh City in 2010 and began a personal friendship. They ultimately came up with a plan to obtain money in exchange for facilitating the approval of non-immigrant visas from Vietnam to the United States. Sestak conspired with other U.S. citizens and Vietnamese citizens who worked to recruit customers to the visa scheme. Before they appeared at the consulate for visa interviews, Sestak would be informed of the identities of foreign nationals who agreed to pay money in exchange for obtaining visas. He then attempted to issue a visa to each foreign national who had agreed to pay for obtaining a visa, often disregarding the veracity of the information on the application.

Sestak admitted that between February 2012 and September 2012, he caused visas to be approved for people whose applications were part of the scheme.  Payments made by applicants to the conspirators in exchange for visas ranged from $15,000 to $70,000.  Many of the individuals who received visas had been previously denied visas for a variety of reasons.

The entire scheme generated at least $9,780,000.  Of this, Sestak personally received over $3 million in proceeds of the conspiracy, which he laundered through China into Thailand. In an attempt to hide the illegal proceeds of the scheme, Sestak purchased nine real estate properties in Thailand worth over $3 million.  As part of his plea agreement, Sestak agreed to sell these properties and forfeit the proceeds in order to satisfy a portion of the money judgment of at least $6 million that will be entered against him.

Looking forward to hearing what happens to Mr. Sestak’s alleged co-conspirators.  And may his cooperation with the continuing investigation results in tracking down all the fraudulent visa cases he issued and subsequent deportation of those involved.

Also, I don’t think we’ve ever seen the maximum penalty of 24 years among the rotten FSO cases we’ve reviewed.  One of the more notorious visa fraud scandal involving an FSO was that of Thomas Patrick Carroll, a former vice consul at US Embassy Georgetown in Guyana who was arrested in 2000.  He was arrested for selling 800 visas at reportedly US$10,000 – US$15,000 each.  Mr. Carroll did not invest his ill gotten wealth in real estate but according to reports kept some of it in gold bars.  The court originally sentenced Mr. Carroll to 21 years imprisonment in 2002. The prison term was reduced on appeal to 11 years and he was released from prison this past summer.

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USDOJ: AmCit Binh Vo, Alleged Co-Conspirator in Michael Sestak Visa Scandal Arrested at Dulles Airport

— By Domani Spero

We have previously blogged about the visa fraud allegations at the Consulate General in Ho Chi Min City involving FSO Michael T. Sestak and four other alleged co-conspirators.  Court records indicate that an arraignment and motion hearing were held on September 13, 2013 with a status conference scheduled for all three defendants (Sestak, Truc Thanh Huynh and  Hong Chau Vo) for October 18, 2013 at 10:30 AM in Courtroom 30A before Judge John D. Bates.

Related posts:

Meanwhile, 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.  At this time, only one of the alleged co-conspirators, Anhdao Thuy Nguyen, 30, a Vietnamese citizen, and Bihn Vo’s wife remains at large.  According to USDOJ, a warrant has been issued for her arrest.  Thanh Nien News describes Anhdao Thuy Nguyen as a “bright Vietnamese beauty queen” who “studied for an MBA at the University of Texas in Austin.”  

 

Via USDOJ:

American Citizen Arrested and Charged With Bribery, Visa Fraud and Conspiracy -Scheme Allegedly Yielded Millions of Dollars in Bribes

WASHINGTON Binh Vo, 39, an American citizen living in Vietnam, has been arrested and charged with bribery, visa fraud and conspiracy to commit those offenses as well as to defraud the United States, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Director Gregory B. Starr announced today.

Vo appeared this afternoon before the Honorable Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where a criminal indictment was pending against him. He was arrested on Sept. 24, 2013, at Washington Dulles International Airport. Magistrate Judge Facciola ordered that he remain in custody pending further court proceedings.

According to the indictment, Vo conspired with co-defendant Michael Sestak and others to obtain visas to the United States for Vietnamese citizens.  Sestak, 42, 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.

According to the indictment, Vo and Sestak 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 the scheme by creating a website and by spreading the word through emails and telephone calls.

According to the indictment, 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 Vo 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 affidavits filed in this case, Vo received 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 through off-shore banks.  Co-conspirators also had money laundered through off-shore banks to bank accounts in the United States.

To date, the investigation has seized over $2 million from conspirators’ accounts in the United States.

Three others have been charged in the scheme.They are Hong Vo, 27, an American citizen, Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, a Vietnamese citizen, and Anhdao Dao Nguyen, 30, a Vietnamese citizen, all of whom are charged with conspiring with Sestak and Binh Vo.  Hong Vo is Binh Vo’s sister.  She 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 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.  Anhdao Thuy Nguyen is Binh Vo’s wife.  She allegedly assisted with recruiting applicants and laundering funds during the course of the conspiracy.

Sestak and Hong Vo were arrested in May 2013 and Huynh was arrested the following month. All remain held without bond pending further proceedings.  Nguyen remains at large, and a warrant has been issued for her arrest.

An indictment is merely an allegation 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, Christopher Kavanaugh, and Mona N. Sahaf of the National Security Section and Catherine K. Connelly of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

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Jilted Lover Reportedly Helped Exposed Sestak Visa Scandal – There’s a Hole In Your Wall?

— By Domani Spero

Thanh Nien Daily continues to cover the Michael Sestak case in Vietnam.  A recent update details how a jilted lover, referred to as “Lan” reportedly the anonymous source in the criminal complaint, exposed the $10 million visa fraud allegedly perpetuated by FSO Michael T. Sestak and four other conspirators.

A year ago, the US consulate in Ho Chi Minh City received a letter from a jilted man in central Vietnam that helped them crack a US$10-million fraud they otherwise might have never learned about.

Now he wants his fiancé back. He wants his money back. He wants President Obama to reform the US immigration system. And he wants protection from the roughly 410 people who should get deported any day now because he talked.

[…]

“First I called the consulate, but it wasn’t successful,” he said. “Then I sent them a letter.”

Last June, Lan sent pictures and personal details of seven of these women to the Fraud Investigator at the Ho Chi Minh City consulate. He also filed an online complaint with the State Department’s Office of Inspector General.

As he waited for a response, he monitored the lives of those who had left him behind and stewed.

“I watched their smiling, happy lives unfold on Facebook,” he said adding that he became too depressed to continue working.

[…]

Before Sestak’s arrest, the consulate fired three Vietnamese employees working in the non-immigrant visa department—including a longtime fraud investigator.

Coverage of the case in this paper and others quoted affidavits filed by DSS agents crediting an “anonymous source” for informing them about 50-70 villagers who bought visas to America in a three-month period.

It seems without Lan, there wouldn’t have been any case. But, he says, he’s received nothing for his help. The DSS agents he had worked with stopped returning his calls and emails.

He wasn’t exactly easy to handle.

[…]

Reached by phone, DSS Special Agent Tai N. Pham—whose business card was scanned onto Lan’s website—dismissed the claims.

“We tried to keep him anonymous,” Pham said. “Law enforcement has no authority to promise anyone anything […] If someone is truly being threatened it’s hard for me to believe he’d put everything he told law enforcement out there online.”

Continue reading: Jilted informant helps crack massive US visa fraud. The story is sort of weird but also sad.

Screen Shot 2013-07-10

Photo via state.gov/ds

The thing that is worrisome about this, if  true, is that ConGen Ho Chi Minh City is one of the few consular posts that actually has a Regional Security Officer-Investigator, an RSO dedicated to visa investigations.  If this case started with this reportedly jilted lover, the question then becomes how come the internal consular management controls did not trip up the FSO accused in this case? If there was no anonymous source, would the authorities have discovered what was right under their noses?

Visa issuing posts issue Certifications of Consular Management Controls where the responsible officer certifies not only that the review has been conducted and completed but also identifies areas of non-compliance.

One of the areas routinely reviewed is nonimmigrant visa refusals and issuances. These are reviewed electronically daily by the appropriate supervisors in the chain of command. In cases where the supervisory officer determines that an error was made during initial adjudication, the supervisory officer re-interviews the applicant and speaks with the adjudicating officer prior to adjudicating the case under his/her own login. When this happens, the supervisory officer reportedly is trained to enter a thorough explanation in the system.  Most of the alleged Sestak cases have been refused multiple times prior to issuance. Who reviewed his visa issuances?  Doesn’t the CCD broadcast a red alert when issuances go beyond the average norm particularly in high fraud posts?  Nah?

Another area is the Visa Lookout Accountability (VLA).  Consular supervisors reportedly review (although we don’t know how often), a random sampling of issuances to verify that adjudicating officers comply with VLA procedures. The Fraud Prevention Manager (FPM) apparently twice a month also pulls a database generated report that deals with visa issuances over “hits” to ensure that officers are compliant with published guidelines.  If the VLA review and the FPM review also failed to detect these alleged visa shenanigans, then that’s a wall with a big hole.

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Michael Sestak Visa Scandal: USG to seek forfeiture money judgment of at least $9.7 Million

— By Domani Spero

This is an update of the Sestak Visa Scandal that’s winding its way through the court system.  The publicly available Superseding Indictment posted on July 9, 2013 now includes the names of all five defendants — three U.S. citizens and two residents and nationals of Vietnam.  For previous posts, see below:

The August court hearing for Sestak, Hong Vo and Truc Thanh Huynh was rescheduled for 9/13/2013 at 02:00 PM in Courtroom 30A before Judge John D. Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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Excerpt from the Superseding Indictment:

From at least in or around February 2012, continuing through at least in or around December 2012, in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the United States and within the District of Columbia and elsewhere, and pursuant to Title 18, United States Code, Sections 3237 and 3238, within the venue of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the defendants SESTAK, BINH VO, ALICE NGUYEN, HONG VO, and TRUC HUYNH, a joint offender who was arrested in the District of Columbia, did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree, together and with persons whose identities are known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to commit offenses against the United States, that is, bribery of a public official, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 201(b)(2), and visa fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1546(a), and to defraud the United States Government by interfering with and obstructing a lawful government function, that is, the unbiased and disinterested issuance of visas by the Department of State to non-United States citizens, by deceit, craft, trickery, and dishonest means, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.

Forfeiture Allegations:

Upon conviction of the offense alleged in Count One of this Indictment, defendants MICHAEL T. SESTAK, BINH TANG VO, ANHDAO T. NGUYEN, also known as Alice Nguyen, also known as Anhdao Thuy Vo, also known as Thuy Anh Dao Nguyen, also known as Anhdao Thuy Nguyen, also known as Dao Thuy Anh Nguyen, HONG CHAU VO, and TRUC THANH HUYNH, shall forfeit to the United States any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from or is traceable to the proceeds obtained directly or indirectly from the commission of the offense, and any property, real or personal, which was used to facilitate the commission of the offense, or was intended to be used to facilitate the offense, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 982(a)(6), and any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the offense, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 981(a)(1)(C) and 28 U.S.C. Section 2461(c). The property subject to forfeiture includes: Any and all funds and securities seized from Scottrade account #58490015, held in the name of ANHDAO THUY NGUYEN.

The indictment includes descriptions of “transactions” where  individuals, some with multiple visa denials were allegedly issued visas by Mr. Sestak.  The government alleges that defendant Binh Vo informed defendant Sestak of the identity of each foreign national who had agreed to pay money in exchange for obtaining a visa, before the foreign national appeared at the Consulate for a visa interview.

Below is a video posted by Thanh Nien Daily of the December 2012 wedding of alleged conspirators, Vietnamese national Anhdao Thuy Nguyen and U.S.citizen Binh Tang Vo with Sestak as one of the groomsmen.  The Thanh Nien Daily reported that the wedding cost $300,000.  More wedding photos on FB here.

The indictment says that the “United States will seek a forfeiture money judgment against the defendants in the amount of at least $9,780,000.”

The indictment also seeks  forfeiture of “any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from or is traceable to the proceeds obtained directly or indirectly from the commission of the offense, and any property, real or personal, which was used to facilitate the commission of the offense, or was intended to be used to facilitate the offense, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 982(a)(6). The United States will seek a forfeiture money judgment against the defendants equal to the value of any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to this offense.”

If any of the property cannot be located, or has been transferred or sold, or deposited with, a third party; or has been placed beyond the jurisdiction of the court, the indictment seeks, upon conviction of defendants, forfeiture “to the United States any other property of the defendants, up to the value of the property described above, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. Section 853(p).”

Vietnamese newspaper Tuoi Tre reported that Binh Tang Vo and his wife Anhdao Thuy Nguyen last entered Vietnam on April 7, 2012.  Thanh Nien Daily also reported that the publication of their names has sparked widespread speculation as to their whereabouts but that the couple has disappeared from public sight.

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US Embassy Guyana Rumor Galore: Another Visa Scandal Ready to Break?

— By Domani Spero

 

There is another alleged visa shenanigans involving a visa officer making the news.  The Guyana Observer reported on July 4 that a US embassy official in Georgetown, Guyana is alleged to have issued “dozens of visas to Guyanese women for sex” and as well as reportedly being “accused of selling visas to many corrupt businessmen, drug dealers etc. for as low as US$15,000.”

The Kaieteur News of Georgetown, Guyana also reported on July 4 that the Foreign Service Officer was “a frequent patron of a popular Middle Street restaurant where he would meet with brokers, some of whom were prominent local businessmen.”

Large numbers are being thrown about – from reportedly $10,000 for a new visa issuance to$30,000-$40,000 for alleged re-issuance of visas previously cancelled or revoked.

According to AFP, its government sources said that the officer had been removed from his post, two months before his tour of duty was due to end in September 2013.

The Daily Caller picked up the news and described the report as this: “A State Department officer has been accused of selling visas for sex and money in what may have been a massive human trafficking operation” citing two Guyanese journalists.  One of the Guyanese journalists says that “We became aware of a scam going on at the embassy when many legitimate visa applicants were being turned down.”

Many applicants who are turned down for visas think they are legitimate and ought to get visas, so that in itself does not hold much water as an argument that there is a scam going on.   Issuance, cancellation, revocation of visas all have electronic trails since no one does paper and pen adjudications anymore. If there is anything there, the investigators will find it. More importantly, the money trails, because you got to have a way to take all that alleged dirty money out of the country.  Any witness to the sex for visa exchange should contact Diplomatic Security here.

The DC and Guyanese news outlets have identified and published a photo of the FSO. We have chosen not to name the FSO here since he has not been charged with a crime.

A source did tell this blog that the person in question in Guyana (we don’t have a confirmed name) a first tour FSO, was sent back to Washington during the investigation, and is currently working in a regional bureau pending the criminal investigation.

Local media published a statement from the US Embassy in Georgetown (not posted online):

“The Department of State is aware of allegations of improprieties relating to a Consular Officer formerly assigned to Georgetown, Guyana.

The Department takes all allegations of misconduct by employees seriously. We are reviewing the matter thoroughly. If the allegations are substantiated, we will work with the relevant authorities to hold anyone involved accountable.”

We have previously blogged about the US Embassy in Georgetown (See US Embassy Guyana: Is this a consequence of midlevel staffing/experience gaps?).

The embassy is headed by D. Brent Hardt who was sworn in as Ambassador to the Cooperative Republic of Guyana on August 19, 2011. According to the embassy website, the “Chief, Consular Affairs” is Mark O’Connors.

On the same week that FSO Michael T. Sestak (See USDOJ:  FSO Michael Todd Sestak Charged With Conspiracy to Defraud and Conspiracy to Commit Bribery and Visa Fraud) was formally charged charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to commit bribery and visa fraud at the District Court of the District of Columbia, we heard that former FSO, Thomas Patrick Carroll was released from a Chicago federal prison.  Mr. Carroll, a former vice consul at US Embassy Georgetown in Guyana who notably kept some of his ill gotten assets in gold bars, was arrested in 2000.  He was originally sentenced to 21 years imprisonment in 2002, a term that was subsequently reduced on appeal.

Perhaps it should not be a surprise that visa fraud is big news in Guyana.  The Thomas Carroll incident was huge, huge news over there. There is an ebook written about it — The Thomas Carroll Affair: A Journey through the Cottage Industry of Illegal Immigration by David Casavis available at amazon.com. We have not read the book but  according to News Source Guyana,  “the author considers it one of his best works.”

We will have a follow-up post if there are further developments on this case.

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