Foreign Service officer Michael T. Sestak is facing charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and bribery in a scheme that investigators say spanned across several countries.
How the scheme unfolded
Sestak worked for the State Department and had the authority to issue visas for desperate immigrants. Because of the broken immigration system that did not keep track or verify how these visas were granted, Sestak, with the help of co-conspirators, earned bribes in exchange for visas. They encouraged recruiters to raise prices that charged way over the established rate to earn more money for themselves. The advertised charge people paid was up to $70,000 per visa that would grant legal entry into the U.S. This scheme occurred when Sestak was working in the consulate in Ho Chi Minh City handling non-immigrant visas. Sestak was about to leave for active-duty service with the navy when he was arrested in Southern California a week ago. Authorities are keeping him without bail until he can be transferred to Washington citing a” serious risk defendant will flee.”
How Authorities got involved
A spokesperson for the state department has declined comment. A special agent with the department’s Diplomatic Security Service spelled out the allegations against Sestak and five co-conspirators in a 28 page affidavit filed to support the criminal complaint. When Sestak earned money from the bribes and commission from visas, he moved the money out of Vietnam through money launderers through offshore banks. While at the office, the co-conspirators reached out to people in Vietnam and the U.S. to advertise the “guaranteed visas” then let Sestak know who would then review the application and prepare the visas. He then used these proceeds to buy real estate in Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand. Officials became suspicious when Sestak’s rejection rate of visas fell shortly before he was to leave the office. An informant also advised consular officials that 50 to 70 people in a Vietnamese village illegally paid for their visas. Investigators began tracing online visa applications and found money transfers including $150,000 sent to Sestak’s sister in Florida tipping them off to the scheme.
Our office in St. Louis, Missouri has not heard any complaints about foreign service officers or immigration officers expecting bribes in return for issuing visas. We will continue to follow this story and pledge to do whatever we can to prevent immigrants in our area from being exploited by governmental officials.
If you have questions regarding the new immigration reform, applying for a visa or the changing immigration laws, contact us at 314-961-8200 or visit our contact page.