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U.S. Foreign Service officer charged in Vietnam visa fraud case

By Carol Cratty, CNN
updated 8:59 PM EDT, Tue June 4, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The defendant was visa chief at a U.S. consulate in Vietnam
  • He allegedly received millions of dollars for approving visas based on false information
  • A confidential source tipped the consulate that a visa conspiracy was going on
  • Two others -- an American and a Vietnamese -- also are charged in the case

Washington (CNN) -- A U.S. Foreign Service officer has been charged in a visa fraud conspiracy in which Vietnamese citizens paid between $20,000 and $70,000 per visa, according to court documents

Michael Todd Sestak, 41, appeared in federal court in Washington Tuesday and will remain in jail pending further court proceedings. He is charged wtih conspiracy to commit bribery and visa fraud.

Sestak was visa chief at the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City and allegedly started to approve visas for a fee beginning in March 2012. Sestak allegedly worked with co-conspirators who advertised visas for people who were unable to get them on their own or had been turned down. They also encouraged people to enter the United States on tourist visas, overstay the visas and remain in the U.S., according to prosecutors.

Sestak allegedly received several million dollars in bribes for approving visas he knew were based on fraudulent information. According to a court affidavit, he moved his money out of Vietnam using money launderers and off-shore banks, and then bought real estate in Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand.

In July 2012 the U.S. Consulate received a letter from a confidential source saying there was a visa conspiracy going on. The tipster said from late May until early July 2012 some 50 to 70 people from one Vietnamese village had obtained visas in the scheme. Prosecutors said ultimately hundreds of bad visas were granted.

Sestak was arrested in California on May 13. Two women also have been charged in the alleged conspiracy and are in custody in the United States. They are Hong Vo, a 27-year old American citizen, and Truc Tranh Huynh, a 29-year old Vietnamese citizen.

The State Department, which controls the Foreign Service, had no comment on the Sestak case. CNN's message to Sestak's lawyer was not immediately returned

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