The US Government got Binh Vo, their man in the multimillion dollar visa case, but they still want his wife. In the meantime, a convicted rapist who may have murdered a Nha Trang hairdresser looks like he'll never see the inside of a Vietnamese court room.
Nguyen Thuy Anh Dao, 31 and Vo Tang Binh, 40, pose for a wedding photo in November of 2012. Binh was arrested last week in Vietnam and was extradited to Washington DC where he has been charged with orchestrating a multi-million dollar visa scam. Dao, who has been indicted as his alleged co-conspirator, remains at large, presumably in Vietnam. Photo: Thomas Ng @ Poem
Attention American fugitives: despite lots of cheap websites that suggest otherwise, Uncle Sam can and will come get you if you're hiding out in Vietnam.
Earlier this summer, the Socialist Republic booted a 71-year-old accused of aggravated sodomy back to Georgia. In 2010, much was made over a suspected Houston bank robber who was sent back to Texas.
I've heard stories, over beer, of expats being rounded up and sent back to the States for crimes as mundane as tax evasion and identity fraud.
One State Department employee assured me, off the record, that the US has sent prisoners back to Vietnam, but he couldn't give me an example of when it happened.
I'd love to provide some better background on all this, but a bunch of demented country club pirates have turned off the federal government for the foreseeable future. Needless to say, it's a bad week to be asking these sorts of questions.
Here's what I do know: there's no extradition treaty between Vietnam and the US, but that didn't stop Vo Tang Binh from getting put on a plane last week.
"Binh Vo was arrested in Vietnam and is being transported to the United States," his sister's attorney announced in a motion filed in a Federal Court on September 25.
The US explains this un-extradition semantically.
"Mr. Vo was not extradited," wrote a State Department spokesperson speaking on background. "He was deported by Vietnam to the United States."
Later that day, the US Government charged Binh with orchestrating a multi-million dollar scheme to sell tourist visas with help from his little sister Hong, his cousin Truc, his wife "Alice" and (of course) Consular Officer Michael T. Sestak"”who confessed to his role in the scheme shortly before being similarly extradited from Thailand.
Hong and Truc have been held without bail ever since their springtime arrests in the US. Following Binh's extradition, the women's asked that they be released on bail on the grounds that there was no one left in Vietnam to harbor them.
But that's not quite true. Alice remains at large.
Friends say the very beautiful Nguyen Thuy Anh Dao (AKA Alice) met her millionaire husband on a plane bound for Austin while she was earning an advanced degree at the University of Texas.
According to the government's most recent indictment, the couple spent a good portion of 2012 working to hide millions of dollars in overseas accounts under her name. So far, the Department of Justice has only seized "more that US$2 million" from Alice's trading accounts in the US"”around $8 million shy of what they plan to seize when this is all over.
In the meantime, the US government has announced it has issed a warrant for her arrest, which will be a taller order.
Alice is a Vietnamese citizen, so they can't just cancel her passport and ask immigration to put her on a plane. It will be interesting to see if Vietnam opts to give up Alice and all her money. But that's hardly the most interesting aspect of this treaty-free extradition arrangement.
In March, the US Department of Justice flew a detective from the Khanh Hoa Province police department to Seattle.
The following morning, he submitted roughly 70 pages of interviews and investigative notes to a court and then took the witness stand.
Seated in court was 46 year old Timothy George Doran, a convicted sex offender who moved to Nha Trang three years ago with his two infant sons looking to teach English.
With the help of an interpreter, the senior Khanh Hoa cop described his discovery of a strangled, decomposing 24-year-old hairdresser named Nguyen Thi Bich Ngoc in Doran's rented home in March of 2011, shortly after the man and his kids fled Nha Trang.
The investigator also submitted a pair of printed email exchanges Doran had with two Vietnamese women in which he alternatively admitted to "accidentally" killing Ngoc in a fight and killing Ngoc to "protect [his] boys."
At the same hearing, Doran's most recent girlfriend (a Filipino woman he met online) told the court how Doran had explained the killing in a motel room in Montana. I've added the names to her testimony for clarity.
"[Ngoc's] with a gang. That's what [Doran] told me.
"And the middle of the night they were sleeping, the two boys and [Doran].
"And [Ngoc and two gang members] came inside the house, because [Ngoc] has the key of the house.
"She was with the two guys with"”you know, the two men with her. And they're trying to"”he told me they're trying to kill him. So [Doran] does this to defend himself with these people, because these people want to get his two kids and send them to China. That's what he told me. That's why he defend himself. He killed these people."
The Khanh Hoa officer present at the hearing pointed out that the police have yet to find the bodies of the two men Doran supposedly murdered along with the roughly 45-kg hairdresser.
Had this been a murder trial here in Vietnam, Doran wouldn't have many options. But it wasn't Vietnam. And he wasn't on trial for murder.
He was on trail for failing to make a phone call.
Ever since his 1992 conviction for beating, raping and attempted to blow up his girlfriend (and her sleeping children) Doran has been required to let the police know of his whereabouts at all times.
But he didn't do that when he came to Vietnam. So Doran is on trial for "failure to register as a sex offender."
The US government wants to give him 10 years (the maximum sentence) for his administrative failure which, lame as it sounds, might not even work.
Before Ngoc's murder came into the picture, Doran turned himself in and pleaded guilty to the crime.
But once the government began talking about a dead body in Vietnam, he switched course.
Doran tried to dismiss his public defender (this would be his second) and submitted an elaborate hand-written motion attempting to withdraw his guilty plea.
On September 21, he returned to the courtroom and pleaded guilty (again).
"I am essentially trying a murder case in a sentencing hearing," Doran's beleagured attorney said as he requeseted another five months to review all the witnesses.
Unless Vietnam sends another police officer to this next hearing (set in January) there's a good chance the Judge will throw out all of the evidence presented by the Khanh Hoa cop.
"Don't ask me to rely on anything other than live witnesses," he said.
The prosecutor didn't make things sound too hopeful.
"I am not confident we will get Vietnam to send someone," he said.
If a Vietnamese person actually does agree to testify against Doran, he'll get even more time. Otherwise, this half trial is set to go off in January.
Naturally, no one seems to know what Vietnam is up to in all of this. The nation filed a request through Interpol for Doran's fingerprints and DNA. But they appear to have stopped short of demanding the man himself.
By all rights, Doran should be facing a murder trial here in Khanh Hoa Province. I'm not saying he's guilty, but the evidence against him warrants a real trial under Vietnamese law.
Unlike the savage States, you do time in Vietnam if you kill a person. Whether she threatened you, hit you or entered your house without permission, killing her is just plum illegal.
If the US can get its hands on a measly white-collar suspect like Binh Vo, then Vietnam should be able to order up Tim Doran like so much pizza.
In the meantime, no one here should even think about giving up Alice Vo (or a single cent in her name) until Doran turns up at Tan Son Nhat signed, sealed, delivered.
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