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  1. #1
    Super Moderator Newmexican's Avatar
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    May 2005
    Heart of Dixie

    State Department employee sentenced for selling visas at up to $70K

    State Department employee sentenced for selling visas at up to $70K

    A man applying for a U.S. visa holds his U.S. Department of State forms and Cuban passport as he waits in line outside the U.S. Interests Section in Havana on July 1, 2015. (Associated Press) **FILE** more >

    Exclusive Washington Times Daily Briefing (August 14, 2015)
    Washington Times

    By Stephen Dinan - The Washington Times - Friday, August 14, 2015

    A State Department employee who sold U.S. visas on the black market inVietnam for up to $70,000 a pop was sentenced Friday to 64 months in prison, after a scam authorities said allows hundreds of travelers who had previously been denied entry to sneak into the U.S.

    The scheme, which involved a handful of people and netted more than $9 million during two years that it ran, submitted about 500 fraudulent visa applications, and almost all of them were granted — even though many of the same people had been denied visas before.

    Michael T. Sestak, who ran the non-immigrant visa section of the consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, took home about $3 million of that, which he laundered through buying properties in Thailand, federal authorities said.

    “Because of this defendant’s selfish greed, nearly 500 foreign nationals were able to enter the United States without the proper screening. This sentence reflects the seriousness of his corrupt conduct,” said Vincent H. Cohen Jr., acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

    Sestak pleaded guilty in 2013. Several others in the case have already been sentenced, including one American citizen living in Vietnam who made more than $5 million from the scam. He was sentenced to serve eight years in prison.

    Authorities said Sestak colluded with both American and Vietnamese citizens in Ho Chi Minh City to recruit and approve visas, using his position as chief of the division that reviewed the applications.

    Payments ranged from $15,000 to $70,000, and many of the people had previously been denied visas, but were approved by Sestak’s scheme, prosecutors said.

  2. #2
    Super Moderator Newmexican's Avatar
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    May 2005
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    Embassy Officer Admits Taking $3M in Bribes for Visas

    Nov. 6, 2013

    US foreign service officer Michael Sestak, 42, pleaded guilty to bribery charges Nov. 6, 2013.

    An official with the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam has admitted he rubber-stamped nearly 500 visitor visas to the United States in exchange for more than $3 million in bribes, which he then used to buy nine properties overseas.

    Michael T. Sestak, 42, pleaded guilty in Washington Wednesday, telling a federal judge he was part of a conspiracy – along with five others from the U.S. and Vietnam – to commit bribery and visa fraud.

    From 2010 to 2012, Sestak was stationed in Ho Chi Minh City, where he was in charge of reviewing and approving visa applications. It was "a sensitive position," as the Justice Department called it.

    Under the conspiracy, a group of "agents" would recruit customers and advertise a "deal" online, promising Vietnamese nationals that their non-immigrant visa applications to the United States would be approved, even if it was an application that had previously been denied, according to the Department of Justice. The cost: As much as $70,000 per application.

    The group allegedly helped applicants fill out their applications and tutored them over the required in-person interviews, offering sample questions and suggested answers. The interviews, however, were conducted by Sestak, who then approved visas for paying customers.

    "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," U.S. Attorney Ron Machen said in a statement. "His motivation for betraying his oath of office was cold, hard cash."
    Evidence uncovered by authorities suggests Sestak was essentially recruited himself, with his co-conspirators targeting him early on and "purposefully cultivat[ing]" a relationship with him "so then later he can do [one of us] favors like … approve visas for people," as one co-conspirator put it in an online chat cited by federal prosecutors.

    "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," the co-conspirator said of Sestak in an online chat dated June 1, 2012. "My brother plans on using him to get [a relative's visa approved]."
    The entire scheme generated at least $9,780,000. Sestak personally received about a third of that, which he laundered through China into Thailand, where he bought nine real estate properties, according to federal prosecutors.

    Ironically, in the midst of the scheme, the State Department was promoting an event in Ho Chi Minh City hosted by Sestak.
    "Secrets of the visa application process revealed!!... Which day is the luckiest one to apply for a visa? What are the secret best answers to the visa interview questions? Where can I get the documents that will guarantee that I receive a visa?" said a State Department flyer advertising the March 22, 2012, event.

    U.S. authorities first learned of the bribery scheme after a confidential source sent a letter to the U.S. consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. The letter outlined the scheme and included the names, birth dates and even photographs of seven people who obtained visas through it.

    The State Department's Diplomatic Security Service immediately launched an investigation.

    Sestak and one of his alleged co-conspirators, a U.S. citizen living in Vietnam, were arrested in May. Two others have also been taken into custody. But one of those allegedly involved in the bribery scheme – the wife of another alleged co-conspirator -- remains at large in Vietnam. A warrant has been issued for her arrest.

    "This case demonstrates how cooperation with State Department partners in the region allowed the Department of Justice to pursue charges where Vietnamese citizens were victimized by individuals guided by greed," said U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service Director Gregory Starr.

    No date has been set for Sestak's sentencing. He faces more than 24 years in prison.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Judy's Avatar
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    Aug 2005
    24 years potential reduced to 64 months? Really?
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