US: Consulate Official Admits to Accepting $3 Million in Bribes
Foreign service official Michael Sestak pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bribery, and money laundering in a US District Court in Washington DC, according to a release from the US Justice Department. Sestak, 42, admitted accepting more than US$3 million in bribes in exchange for approving visas.
The Fort Worth, Texas Star-Telegram reports that Sestak was accused of processing visas for nearly 500 foreign nationals as the non-immigrant visa chief in Vietnam.
In front of a federal judge, Sestak pled guilty to "one count each of conspiracy to commit bribery and visa fraud and to defraud the United States, bribery of a public official, and conspiracy to engage in monetary transactions in property derived from illegal activity."
A State Department official said that American authorities noticed "potential visa improprieties in Vietnam," which, when investigated, led to Sestak. He was arrested on May 13, 2013.
Two Americans living in Vietnam, Binh Vo, 39, and his sister, Hong Vo, 27, and two Vietnamese citizens, Binh Vo's wife Anhdao Nguyen, 30, and Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, have also been charged. Huynh pled guilty in October, while Binh Vo and Hong Vo pled not guilty and are awaiting trials. A warrant has been issued for Nguyen's arrest.
According to the Justice Department, Sestak met Bonh Vo while working at the US consulate in Ho Chi Minh City in 2010. They became friends and allegedly planned to defraud the US visa system together.
The Star-Telegram said the investigation uncovered at least 500 fraudulent visa applications. From May 1 to Sept. 6 of 2012, the consulate received 31,386 applications and rejected 35.1 percent of them, investigators say. Sestak , however, rejected only 8.2 percent of the 5,489 visa applications he handled during that time, they said.
Sestak claimed to have been actively participating in the visa-for-money scheme from February 2012 to September 2012. The conspirators took in nearly US$10 million, of which Sestak admitted to receiving US$3 million. He allegedly attempted to launder the money through China into Thailand by purchasing properties in Bangkok and Phuket, which he has agreed to forfeit as a part of the plea deal.
No sentencing date has been set, although the Justice Department press release states that "Under federal sentencing guidelines, the applicable range for the offenses” is 19 to 24 years.