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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US Embassy Vietnam: Former POTUS Bill Clinton Visits to Celebrate 20 Years of Normalized U.S.-Vietnam Relations

Posted: 2:04 am  EDT
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Look who was in Vietnam to celebrate the 239th birthday of U.S. independence and the 20th anniversary of the normalization of U.S.-Vietnam relations!

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Photo from US Embassy Hanoi/FB

Screen Shot 2015-07-07

Photo via US Embassy Hanoi/FB

Via US Mission Vietnam:

President Bill Clinton traveled to Hanoi to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the historic normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam. The 1995 announcement was one of many actions taken by President Clinton to help the two nations embrace the spirit of reconciliation and move into the future together, including the lifting of the trade embargo and the negotiation of a bilateral trade agreement.

On July 11, 1995, President Clinton announced “the normalization of diplomatic relationships with Vietnam,” paving the way for historic engagement. This breakthrough led to the Comprehensive Partnership signed by President Obama and President Sang in 2013 and to the shared vision that characterizes the multi-faceted bilateral relationship that guides our two countries into the future. With eyes fixed on that bright future, the United States Government is proud to highlight the progress made by our two countries by hosting receptions in Hanoi and in Ho Chi Minh City; and by hosting programs throughout 2015 in Vietnam’s 63 provinces.

Ambassador Osius spoke of optimism at USCG Ho Chi Minh’s  July 1 event:

“As I look back, I recall that first Independence Day event 18 years ago was not as elegant as this one, there were fewer guests, there were fewer American officials working here, fewer American companies …. But still, that event was important symbolically because it represented a new era between our two countries…. What we learned during those early years… was that despite being former enemies, the U.S. and Vietnam could build a new relationship…. So, as Ambassador, I am optimistic.

Here is an excerpt from President Clinton’s remarks:

When the Ambassador was up here introducing me in Vietnamese, your Deputy Prime Minister said he’s pretty good.  [Laughter].  I said well he should be, he was part of the original crew that helped us set up shop here, and then he came back and worked in the National Security Council when I was in office.  I’m glad he got a well-deserved promotion and I thank him for what he’s doing.
[…]
I think most every Vietnamese person could say what Vietnam has gotten out of it.  I would like to tell you that from my point of view America may have won the war, so my friends say.  To me the symbol of why we did the right thing will always be Ambassador Pete Peterson and his wonderful wife.  Many of you know, he spent more than six years as a guest of the Vietnamese government during the war.  He then went home and did his best to put his family back together, ran for Congress, got elected, became our Ambassador — our first Ambassador, one of the best appointments I ever made — and then married his wonderful wife and moved to Australia so he could come to Vietnam once a month and visit here.

I tell you all this because for millions of Americans 20 years ago, actually July 11th, was a different form of independence day.  Vietnam had captured our imagination and taken up so much space in our spirit that there were people who were wounded and injured, and no American my age didn’t know at least someone who was killed here.  There were raging debates at home.  People on both sides thought the others were crazy.  And somehow when finally our Vietnamese friends said they would accept us and we said we would accept them, we were set free.  Those being set free included those who made this day possible, members of the Senate in both parties including President Johnson’s son-in-law, Senator Chuck Robb who supported this, and who probably lost more men under his command, more than any other person working on this; Senator Max Cleland from Georgia who lost two legs and an arm; and of course Senator John Kerry, now Secretary of State; and Senator John McCain, now Chairman of the Armed Services Committee of the Senate.  I want to thank them.  They were the win beneath the wings of this movement.  They made what I was able to do as President possible.  They knew it was a bigger movement in America than it was in Vietnam.

His full remarks here:  http://vietnam.usembassy.gov/clinton-070215.html.

#

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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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.

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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.

👀

USCG Ho Chi Minh City’s Visa Fraud Allegations — When Silence Isn’t Golden

— By Domani Spero

We blogged previously about the allegations against Foreign Service officer Michael T. Sestak who faces charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and bribery in an alleged visa-for-money scheme in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam. See:

Last weekend, Albany’s Times Union first reported the identity of one of the alleged co-conspirators, Hong Vo, a 27-year-old U.S. citizen who was born and raised in Colorado and reportedly the sister of the unnamed co-conspirator #1.  This individual was arrested on May 8 in Denver according to the Times Union.

With the name of one of the co-conspirators now publicly known, we thought it’s only a matter of time before the dots get connected over in Vietnam. On June 3, Vietnam’s Tuoi Tre News did just that asking, Who was Michael Sestak’s No. 1 aid in visa scam?  The news outlet dug up the purported identity of two co-conspirators related to the individual arrested in Colorado,  co-conspirator #1, a U.S. national and co-conspirator #2, a Vietnamese national married to #1.  Tuoi Tre News even has a photo from the couple’s wedding in Vietnam last year. It also reported that its reporters tried to locate the couple but had been unsuccessful.

On June 4, a 29-year-old Vietnamese citizen, Truc Tranh Huynh, one of Hong Vo’s cousins and one of the alleged co-conspirators was arrested in Washington according to McClatchy. There is also this:

In a previously undisclosed document, prosecutors identified another of the alleged co-conspirators as Anhdao Thuy Nguyen, also known as Alice Nguyen. On May 9, a State Department Diplomatic Security Service special agent, Simon Dinits, filed a warrant to seize money in a brokerage account in Nguyen’s name, claiming it came from visa fraud.

The report on the warrant on a brokerage account allegedly in Anhdao Thuy Nguyen aka Alice Nguyen’s name did not indicate whether she is a U.S. national or Vietnamese.  All the co-conspirators of this alleged scheme have been identified by the local media in Vietnam.  We are only posting the names of the alleged co-conspirators officially identified in U.S. court documents at this time.

Fun times at a wedding

On June 6, Vietnam’s Thanh Nien News located and posted online a video of a lavish wedding in Ho Chi Minh City in 2012 where Mr. Sestak appeared as the groom’s best man.  Sestak appears on the video at the following marks: 0:49; 0:53; 2:32; 3:54 and at 5:16. Excerpt from Thanh Nien News:

[C]lip shows Sestak towering above the rest of the groomsmen in a tailored yellow satin tunic, which he twirled around his finger.  In the video, he accompanies [ …..] in a stretch Cadillac limousine to […] and stands holding a tray of rice wine during a traditional betrothal ceremony.  Then Sestak changed into a suit and accompanied a younger woman in a red dress to the ceremony at the Sheraton Saigon Hotel.

Thanh Nien News’ Calvin Godfrey  has some inside scoop on the Sestak arrest in Thailand in early May:

US Investigators voided Sestak’s diplomatic passport in early May, leading Thai immigration officials to arrest him in Phuket where he had purchased a number of luxury properties. State Department investigators caught up to him at an immigration detention center in Bangkok and interviewed him on tape.

It also has one of the most extensive piece yet on the people allegedly engaged in this conspiracy.  Continue reading here.

We understand from a source familiar with the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City that most of the characters in this alleged conspiracy are well connected to the US Consulate community. We’re told that at least three of the alleged co-conspirators were frequent attendees of consulate functions. In addition, Co-conspirator #1 is or was the head of one of the moving companies used by the consulate’s GSO for pack out and shipping services.  By coincidence, USCG HCMC announced last month a solicitation  for Packing and Shipping Service of personal effects.

We should note that the consulate general staff, including all agencies, is nearly two-thirds as large as the staff at Embassy Hanoi.

FSNs “Dismissed” in September 2012

This past week, Tuoi Tre News has another report with quotes from a former FSN of the Non-Immigrant Visa Section of US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. Apparently, this former 14-year staff member, who identified herself as H. was one of the local employees who were dismissed in September 2012.

A source confirmed that four FSNs were fired at USCG HCMC last year.  When asked specifically about the FSNs firing, the US Embassy in Vietnam and the Bureau of Consular affairs declined to comment.

Via Tuoi Tre News

“I personally was rewarded US$50 for discovering counterfeit school reports and house and land papers… However, in the period before Sestak returned to the US, all of us fell under suspicion,” H said.
[…]
Now that the visa fraud scheme has been uncovered, H. and her former co-workers wonder whether or not the suspicions of the American towards them have been eliminated.

Tuoi Tre News  also reported on allegations of visa wrongdoings in the consulate general’s immigrant visa section:

“It is a common thing to see Vietnamese staffs there dismissed. In some cases, many employees are fired at the same time for visa-related mistakes,” the source said.

Meanwhile, cases of visa wrongdoings involving American officers are usually handled silently, with almost no related information being disclosed, according to the source.

When Sestak left the consulate, at least eight officers from the immigrant visa department were suspended pending investigation of their alleged offenses.

We have not been able to corroborate if there is a pending investigation of the IV unit. Suffice to say that if there was enough evidence for the court, the DSS would have done its job.

So, who did the requisite adjudication reviews?

All this makes one wonder – who was reviewing the visa issuances and refusals at HCMC? Isn’t there a requisite adjudication review of nonimmigrant visa issuances and refusals?  Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bureau of Consular Affairs has implemented a wide variety of changes that have tightened the NIV adjudication process, including but not limited to improving executive office oversight by requiring visa chief and deputy chief of mission review of visa adjudications.

9 FAM 41.121 N2.3-7 requires that supervisors review as many nonimmigrant visa (NIV) refusals as is practical, but not fewer than 20% of refusals. “Such a review is a significant management and instructional tool and is useful in maintaining the highest professional standards of adjudication. It helps ensure uniform and correct application of the law and regulations.”

Since HCMC is not an an embassy, who at the Consulate General was required to perform these adjudication reviews?

When silence isn’t golden

So far, the US Mission in Vietnam appears to go on as if nothing has happened.  On May 31, USCG HCMC posted this online: FIVE PLAY Jazz Quintet to Perform in Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang. On June 4, both posts  had this: June 4, 2013 — U.S.-Supported Campaign to Fight Intestinal Worms Reaches over 900,000 Children.

Neither the embassy in Hanoi nor the Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City has posted any official statement regarding the visa fraud allegations. It did release the ‘blandest amidst a crisis’ statement  about the upcoming busy travel season:

With the busy summer student and travel season fast approaching, the U.S. Mission in Vietnam would like to remind potential Vietnamese travelers that the Department of State is committed to facilitating the legitimate travel of individuals who want to visit the United States.  At the same time, we must ensure that applicants are both qualified for the visa and do not pose a security risk to the United States.  Applicants should remember to apply early to avoid possible travel delays during this busy season.    

Already Thanh Nien News reports about The big visa scam and writes, “For years, I’ve heard vague rumors that visas could be bought or simply granted if you knew the right people….those rumors were true.”

Because that’s just what you want read all over the country without any response.

Tuoi Tre News, which is originally a publication of the Hồ Chí Minh Communist Youth Union according to Wikipedia has grown to become the largest newspaper in Vietnam also pokes Uncle Sam:

The U.S. Embassy and Consulate General in Vietnam have yet to issue any official statement about this issue despite Tuoi Tre’s efforts to obtain comment.

It is possible that the missions are trying to handle this crisis, but one of the most basic lessons on crisis management is transparency and a quick response to queries, which the U.S. has preached about.

And it is necessary to answer questions about the Sestak scandal, even though it could simply be an isolated case.

Last weekend and Monday were U.S. holidays, but it is quite puzzling that the embassy and the consulate have not responded to any phone calls, emails, or faxes from Tuoi Tre since Tuesday.

We cannot expect embassy/consulate officials to speak publicly about the specific allegations against Mr. Sestak since this is now a court case.  But everyone is talking about the big elephant in the Vietnamese living room, and the US Mission has put itself out of the conversation. What is wrong about putting out a statement about the rule of law, about presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and  about how seriously the USG tackles visa malfeasance wherever it happens or whoever commits it?

Some of these cases can last a year or two in the U.S. court system; this is not going to end soon.  By not releasing an official statement, by not acknowledging there is/was a problem — it looks bad from this end, and possibly worse from the the eyes of visa applicants who had to shell $160 non-refundable fees for 2-minute interviews.  We’re sure the mission does not want to be perceived as sweeping  allegations under the rug or being indifferent to the legitimate interests and concerns of its paying clients.

The simple fact is — this is one case where silence isn’t golden.

(‘_’)

The Rushford Report on the “Consul General’s Candidacy as the Next Ambassador to Vietnam”

On April 15, Greg Rushford of The Rushford Report published this piece on How (Not) to Become a U.S. Ambassador.  The article refers to the U.S. Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, career Foreign Service officer An T. Le. Our U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam is David Shear who arrived at post in August 2011. Under typical appointments,  Ambassador Shear, as a career diplomat appointed to his position by President Obama, is expected to serve until the summer of 2014.

The reporter is citing email exchange concerning this “candidacy” —  this might be the first time a career FSO is shown as allegedly conducting in Rushford’s words “essentially a clandestine political pressure campaign aimed [at] securing a White House nomination.”  If you want to look at this kindly, one might say, the FSO demonstrates long term preparation and foresight for a vacancy that is expected to occur in 15 months.

The report here also includes the list of “Friends & Supporters of Consul General An T. Le in Ho Chi Minh City” that was reportedly presented by California businessman David Duong to President Obama at a Democratic Party fundraiser during the president’s April 3-4, 2013 appearances in the San Francisco Bay area. Quick excerpt:

Le wants to become the next U.S. ambassador to Vietnam. Toward that end, the consul general has been working behind the scenes since at least last July with a network of Vietnamese-American allies, some of whom have political and business connections in both Washington and Hanoi. Although Le has urged his supporters to try to drum up congressional support, the main target of the lobbying campaign is the man who would make the nomination: President Barack Obama.
[…]
The e-mails reveal that as he has sought to advance what Le has repeatedly referred to as his “candidacy,” the consul general has not been merely a passive observer. Le has participated in drafting and editing various letters of support and introduction. Before California business Duong presented the letter to Obama on April 3, Le advised his ally to correct a typo. Upon being informed by Duong that the letter had been delivered to Obama, Le expressed his gratitude in another e-mail. Writing on his iPad, the consul general related how “I appreciate” the efforts of such good “friends in advancing my candidacy.”
[…]
It is highly unusual — perhaps unprecedented —  for an active member of the U.S. foreign service to run what is essentially a clandestine political pressure campaign aimed securing a White House nomination for an ambassadorship to an important country.

Oh, dear.  Continue reading How (Not) to Become a U.S. Ambassador.

According to its website, The Rushford Report was launched by veteran Washington investigative reporter Greg Rushford in January 1995.

A February 2012 OIG report on US Mission Vietnam had quite a lot to say about Mr. Le’s work at USCG Ho Chi Minh. See State/OIG: US Mission Vietnam — One Mission, One Team, Well, Sort Of.

— DS