Michael T. Sestak who once worked at the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City has been charged with receiving millions of dollars in bribes from Vietnamese residents seeking visas. The fee was up to $70,000 per visa. Sestak used the money to buy real estate in Thailand.
>> US officer takes bribes from Vietnamese seeking visas Sestak, 42, who was arrested last week in South California for the visa-for-money scam, worked as the head of the non-immigration visa department of the Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City from August 2010 until September 2012, when he left the position to prepare for active-duty service with the Navy. The process in which Sestak and his five conspirators had committed their offense has been recorded in detail in an affidavit of US investigator Simon Dinits. Dinits, a Special Agent with the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) of the US Department of State, prepared the affidavit in support of a criminal complaint charging Sestak with violating Title I8 USC § 371 by conspiring to defraud the United States and to commit offenses against the United States, that is, visa fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1546 and bribery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201(b)(1) and (b)(2). An investigation by the DSS has revealed probable cause that, beginning sometime in or around March 2012, while working as a Consular Officer in the Non-Immigrant Visa (“NIV”) Unit of the United States Consulate in HCMC, Sestak conspired with others to solicit bribes from visa applicants in exchange for which he facilitated the approval of their visas through the Consulate. Sestak had five conspirators in the scam, including co-conspirator I, a U.S. national; co-conspirator 2, a Vietnamese national; co-conspirator 3, a U.S. national; co-conspirator 4, a U.S. national; and co-conspirator 5, a Vietnamese national. Co-conspirator 1, who resides in Vietnam, is the General Director of the Vietnam office of a multi-national company located in Vietnam. Sestak and co-conspirator 1 are acquaintances who were known to socialize together in HCMC, and have been observed together at many functions within the Consulate community in Ho Chi Minh City. Co-conspirator 2 is co-conspirator 1’s spouse, and resides in Vietnam. Co-conspirator 3 is co-conspirator 1’s sibling, and resides in Vietnam. Co-conspirator 4 is co-conspirator 3's significant other, and resides in Vietnam. Co-conspirator 5 is co-conspirator 1's cousin, and resides in Vietnam. Based on evidence uncovered through the course of the investigation, it is believed that the scheme operated as follows: Sestak agreed to approve NIVs for applicants for a fee. Co-conspirator 1, co-conspirator 3, and other co-conspirators had “agents” working to recruit customers — or to recruit other recruiters - to the visa scheme. Co-conspirator 3 reached out to people in Vietnam, and in the U.S., and would advertise that “the deal” was being facilitated by a “lawyer” who could guarantee visas for people to come to the United States. Sestak’s co-conspirators also underscored that the lawyer could get visas for people who generally would not be able to get visas on their own, such as people who had been previously refused visas, people who resided in the countryside, people who had not traveled outside of Vietnam, etc. (The investigation has uncovered no evidence of any attorney being involved in the effort to acquire visas.) Co-conspirator 1, co-conspirator 5, and others, would then obtain biographical data and photos from customers in order to prepare their visa applications for them. They would submit the customers’ applications online and obtain appointments for interviews at the Consulate. They would also assist people in preparing for NIV consular interviews by providing sample questions and answers. Soon after submitting the visa application — in typically 3 days or less — the customer would receive an appointment at the Consulate, be interviewed by Sestak, and be approved for a visa. The co-conspirators advertised that the charge would be between $50-70,000 per visa, but also that they would sometimes charge less. They also encouraged recruiters to raise the price and keep the amount they charged over the established rate as their own commission. Customers would pay for their visas in Vietnam, or by routing money to co-conspirators in the United States. Sestak received several million dollars in bribes for approving the visas. He ultimately moved the money out of Vietnam by using money launderers through off-shore banks, primarily based in China, to move funds to a bank account in Thailand that he opened in May 2012. He then used the money to purchase real estate in Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand. Co-conspirator 1 and co-conspirator 2 also had money laundered through off-shore banks to bank accounts in the United States.(To be continued – Next issue: Investigative Leads)