WASHINGTON - A State Department official "received several million dollars in bribes" from Vietnamese residents seeking visas, according to newly public court documents.
In a previously undisclosed criminal complaint, Foreign Service officer Michael T. Sestak faces charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and bribery in an alleged scheme that investigators say spanned several countries. In some cases, investigators say, desperate Vietnamese paid up to $70,000 each for visas granting legal entry to the United States.
The "co-conspirators" advertised that the charge would be between $50,000 and $70,000 per visa but also that they'd sometimes charge less, State Department investigator Simon Dinits said in an affidavit. "They also encouraged recruiters to raise the price and keep the amount they charged over the established rate as their own commission," the affidavit said.
Investigators say the alleged conspiracy occurred while Sestak was handling non-immigrant visas in the U.S. consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. Sestak served in the consulate until last September, when he left in preparation for active-duty service with the Navy. By then, investigators say, an informant had tipped them to the alleged visa scheme.
An attorney for Sestak didn't comment Thursday.
Sestak, who turns 42 this year, was quietly arrested in Southern California about a week ago. Citing a "serious risk defendant will flee," authorities secured a judge's order to hold him without bail until he can be transferred back to Washington, where the complaint was originally filed under seal May 6.