The arrest of Michael T. Sestak, the former head of the non-resident visa department at the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, in a visa bribery case, surprised his colleagues, who considered him devoted and professional at work.
>> Sestak approves visas for associates of co-conspirators >> Clues from IP addresses in Sestak’s visa scam>> Investigative leads in Sestak’s visa-for-money scam>> Visa bribery case: how did ex-US officer make money? In August 2010, when Sestak, a reserve officer of the US Navy, began working for the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City – at 4 Le Duan, District 1 –, nobody imagined that he would later lead a visa selling ring. In fact, Sestak pocketed nearly US$4 million in bribes within only six months, from March to September 2012, when he left the position to prepare for active-duty service with the Navy. Coming from the Navy, Sestak was highly valued by his colleagues at the Consulate General, many of whom assessed him as very professional at work. Therefore, they were astonished to discover that Sestak had led a ring to sell visas to Vietnamese at the Consulate for US$50,000-70,000 per visa. Sestak had four American consular officers and two Vietnamese staff under him when he served as head of the non-immigrant visa department of the consulate general. Some sources said that the visa departments, both for immigration and non-immigration, are “very complicated”, and even Vietnamese workers there also committed visa-related wrongdoings. “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. A few months later, five of these people were allowed to resume work, while the three others were fired. Sestak’s case is as notorious as another visa scandal involving former US consular officer Thomas Carroll, who was sentenced to 21 years in prison in 2002 for selling 800 visas at the U.S. Embassy in Guyana to people who wanted to sneak into the United States. Carroll charged between $10,000 and $15,000 per visa and shared some of the bribe money with others, potentially pocketing up to $4 million himself.Sestak once called for honesty On April 26, 2012, Sestak chaired a session held at the Education USA Center under the Consulate General in HCMC to introduce visa procedures to students who wanted to be educated in the U.S. While giving instructions on interviews, Sestak said, “During interviews, we do not expected perfect answers but expect to receive your sincerity. Despite your nerves, you should calm down and give a sincere reply.” Sestak also warned students that the US consular section has an ability to detect fraud in applying for visas. “Candidates should provide sincere declarations about their family conditions and give clear explanation about their plans after completing their courses in the US.” He also emphasized that the consulate general would not grant a visa when it knew that the applicants only aimed at using the visa to reunite with their relatives in the US. “We have enough ability to recognize that your main purpose in applying for a visa is not for studying but for indefinite residence or seeking illegal jobs in the US,” he said. Therefore, when applying for a visa, applicants should make sincere declarations about their relatives in the US, he added.