A U.S. Foreign Service Officer who was posted in Vietnam admitted accepting more than $3 million in bribes to process visas for entry into the United States, the DOJ said.
Michael T. Sestak, 42, pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy, bribery, and money laundering charges. He appeared in federal court in the District of Columbia.
He faces up to 24 years in prison. No sentencing date was set.
Under his plea deal, Sestak will forfeit the money he made from the scheme, including nine properties he bought in Thailand.
In exchange for bribes, Sestak issued visas to nearly 500 foreign nationals to enter the United States, the DOJ said.
The State Department learned about ‘potential visa improprieties in Vietnam’ and called the Diplomatic Security Service for an investigation with the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs.
Sestak has been in custody since his arrest on May 13, the DOJ said.
Four others have been charged with taking part in the conspiracy. They are Binh Vo, 39, and his sister, Hong Vo, 27, both American citizens who had been living in Vietnam. Binh Vo’s wife, Anhdao Dao Nguyen, 30, was also charged, along with Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, both Vietnamese citizens.
Hong Vo was arrested in May 2013 and Huynh was arrested in June. Binh Vo was arrested in September. Nguyen remains at large and a warrant has been issued for her arrest, the DOJ said.
Huynh pleaded guilty in October to one count of visa fraud and is waiting to be sentenced. Binh Vo and Hong Vo have pleaded not guilty and are being held without bond pending trial.
They can’t be charged under the FCPA because Sestak wasn’t a ‘foreign official’ but an officer of the U.S. government. He was the Non-Immigrant Visa Chief in the Consular Section of the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from August 2010 to September 2012, the DOJ said. His job included reviewing visa applications, conducting in-person interviews of visa applicants, and issuing visas when appropriate.
Bribes by visa applicants ranged from $15,000 to $70,000. Many of the individuals who received visas had been previously denied them, the DOJ said.
The entire scheme generated at least $9.8 million, the DOJ said. Sestak personally took over $3 million and laundered it through China into Thailand.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.