USG Charges Two Individuals For Visa Fraud Conspiracy Involving the Moroccan Diplomatic Mission and Seven Domestic Workers

 

On March 13, SDNY announced that two individuals were charged for visa fraud conspiracy involving the Moroccan Consulate and Mission in New York. The complaint includes an individual not named as a defendant in the Complaint (“CC-1”), a diplomatic agent accredited to the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United Nations (the “Moroccan Mission”) with the rank of Ambassador. Footnote #5 in the complaint says that the USG anticipates that it will enter into a non-prosecutorial agreement with each of the seven domestic workers, all nationals of the Philippines). Footnote #6 notes that the DSS Special Agent is aware that as an ambassador accredited to the Moroccan Mission of the United Nations, CC-1 possesses full diplomatic immunity under Article V of the United Nations Agreement and Article (39)1)of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Via USDOJ/SDNY:

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Christian J. Schurman, Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (“DSS”) at the United States Department of State, announced today the arrest of MARIA LUISA ESTRELLA JAIDI (“JAIDI”), who was charged by complaint along with her brother, RAMON SINGSON ESTRELLA (“ESTRELLA”), for their involvement in a conspiracy to commit visa fraud, make materially false statements, and induce aliens to illegally come to, enter, and reside in the United States.  JAIDI was arrested today in Ancramdale, New York, and will be presented this afternoon in White Plains federal court before the U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul E. Davison.  ESTRELLA remains at large.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman stated:  “As alleged, the defendants abused our nation’s process for admitting consular officials in order to bring domestic workers into this country for their own monetary gain and lifestyle.  On top of that, Maria Luisa Estrella Jaidi exploited these workers by not providing them the critical protections and benefits they would have been entitled to had they been properly brought to this country with the appropriate visas.  Today’s charges demonstrate that fraud and abuse of this type will not be tolerated.”

DSS Director Christian J. Schurman said:  “DSS demonstrated its commitment to protecting the integrity of U.S. travel documents and the rights of foreign nationals visiting the United States.  We will continue to pursue those who abuse domestic worker visas to manipulate and exploit their employees for personal gain.  DSS’s strong relationship with our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, continues to be essential in the pursuit of justice.”

According to the allegations in the Complaint unsealed in White Plains federal court[1]:

From approximately 2006 up to 2016, JAIDI and ESTRELLA conspired with an individual not named as a defendant in the Complaint (“CC-1”) to fraudulently procure visas for at least seven Filipino domestic workers (the “Domestic Workers”).  CC-1 is a diplomatic agent accredited to the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United Nations (the “Moroccan Mission”) with the rank of Ambassador.  From approximately 1980 through approximately 2016, CC-1 and JAIDI were married.

In order to fraudulently obtain visas for the Domestic Workers, JAIDI and CC-1 caused the Domestic Workers to submit visa applications containing materially false statements and to submit fraudulent employment contracts in support of those visa applications.  ESTRELLA – who is JAIDI’s brother and who resides in the Philippines – helped recruit several of the Domestic Workers in the Philippines to work for JAIDI and CC-1 in the United States and instructed the Domestic Workers to make false statements in their visa applications and to officials at the U.S. Embassy in Manila.

In particular, ESTRELLA, JAIDI, and CC-1 caused five of the Domestic Workers to falsely state in their visa applications that they would be employed as secretaries, administrative assistants, or technicians at the Moroccan Mission or at the Consulate General of the Kingdom of Morocco in Manhattan.  In addition, ESTRELLA, JAIDI, and CC-1 caused each of the Domestic Workers to submit fraudulent employment contracts to the State Department in support of their visa applications.  The fraudulent employment contracts also overstated the Domestic Workers’ salaries, understated their hours, and falsely guaranteed benefits, including, among others, sick leave, dental insurance, and medical insurance.

Once the Domestic Workers arrived in the United States, JAIDI and CC-1 employed the workers as their personal drivers, domestic helpers, farmhands, and assistants at their residence in Bronxville, New York, as well as at their farm in Ancramdale, New York.  JAIDI and CC-1 paid the Domestic Workers significantly less than the minimum salary required by law and regularly compelled them to work far in excess of 40 hours per week.  In addition, JAIDI and CC-1 generally denied the Domestic Workers the benefits set forth in their employment contracts, compelled the Domestic Workers to work seven days a week, and required the Domestic Workers to surrender their passports.

Read in full: Two Charged In White Plains Federal Court For Visa Fraud Conspiracy Involving Moroccan Consulate And Mission In New York

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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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