Michael T. Sestak, former head of the non-immigrant visa department at the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, and his co-conspirators earned at least US$10 million from about 500 clients in their visa fraud scam last year, according to US investigators.
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The figures are shown in an additional investigation by the US State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) into the visa scam led by Sestak, 41, who was arrested on May 13 in South California.
The scam lasted from March to September 2012, in which Sestak received US$50,000-70,000 per visa in bribes from Vietnamese people who could not get visa on their own or had been rejected.
Of the amount, $6 million was in a bank in the US and $2.3 million had been transferred to a bank in Thailand and later was used to buy nine properties in Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand, investigators said.
The remaining amount has yet to be clarified but US investigators said it may be in Vietnam.
Sestak’s co-conspirators have deposited the money earned from the scam into many bank accounts, including those in Vietnam.
This is the largest visa fraud scheme ever known by the US Government. Through the scheme, hundreds of Vietnamese people, most of them not eligible to be granted a visa, could enter the US, investigators said.
Most of these people later engaged in false marriages, overstayed their visa and then ‘disappeared’.
The nature and circumstances of such offenses are not violent but extremely serious. They affected the US’s national security by breaking the State Department’s regulations.
Co-conspirator 3 actively joins visa scam
According to DSS, Sestak had five co-conspirators in his scam, including Hong Vo, a 27-year old Vietnamese-American woman who was referred to by DSS as “Conspirator 3”. Vo was arrested early in May.
Vo returned to the US on April 11, 2012, after nearly two years living in Vietnam with her boyfriend Joe Nguyen and others, while engaging in different jobs.
Since Hong Vo has American nationality but lived in Vietnam, the country with which the US has yet to sign a treaty on extradition, US police arrested Vo on May 8 when she returned to the US.
An investigation by DSS revealed that Vo had earned at least US$45,000 thanks to taking part in the visa scam last year. Meanwhile, Vo’s family in the US also received a large amount from the scam. All of the money had been laundered before being transferred to the US.
DSS also discovered that about 408 visa applications from 402 people were sent to the non-immigrant visa office from the IP address of Vo from March 8 to September 6, 2012.
Most of these applicants were granted visas by Sestak or were helped by him to be granted visas after he left the Consulate to prepare for active duty with the Navy.
According to DSS, Vo actively took part in advertising the ‘selling’ of visas to attract clients as well as brokers.
Evidence showed that Vo was involved in every aspect of the visa scam, from building relations with Sestak to the advertising of visa ‘sales’, to arranging schedules for visa interviews, and to laundering money before transferring it into bank accounts in the US, DSS said.
Hong Vo had not only given bribes and assisted Vietnamese people in ‘buying’ visas but also suggested buyers to overstay their visas in the US, which violated the US immigration law, investigators concluded.
The sentence for visa fraud can be up to 10 years in prison and that for bribery can be up to 15 years.
Vo was not sincere in giving declarations to investigators, DSS said, adding that she was alleged to have lied to investigators many times after she was arrested.
Vo is now being detained in Denver, Colorado and is waiting to appear at the federal court in Washington, where Sestak’s visa scam is being handled.
Who was Sestak’s chief accomplice?
According to investigations by Tuoi Tre Newspaper, Sestak’s chief aid in the scam - the person who DSS refers to as “Co-conspirator 1” - is Vo Tang Binh, a 39-year-old Vietnamese-American businessman who holds the post of general director of Santa Freight Forwarding Joint Stock Company.
The company is located on Nguyen Gia Thieu Street, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Co-conspirator 2 is Binh’s wife, Nguyen Thuy Anh Dao, 30. Hong Vo is Co-conspirator 3 and is Binh’s sister. For more information on their identities, read “Who was Michael Sestak’s No. 1 aid in visa scam?”
Sestak appears at court
Michael Todd Sestak, 41, former visa chief at the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, appeared in the federal court in Washington Tuesday, with charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and visa fraud.
Sestak, who will remain in jail pending further court proceedings, allegedly started to approve visas for a “fee” up to US$70,000 beginning in March 2012. He moved his money from the scam out of Vietnam using money launderers and off-shore banks, and then bought properties in Thailand, according to a court affidavit.
Sestak worked with his five co-conspirators who advertised visas for people who were unable to get visas on their own or whose visa applications had been turned down for different reasons, the court documents said.
They also suggested and encouraged people to enter the United States on tourist visas first, and then overstay the visas and remain in the US, prosecutors said.