Former US official formally charged with selling visas in Vietnam

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 People waiting to apply for a visa at the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuan Anh
A former US Foreign Service officer made his first appearance in court Tuesday when he was informed he could face up to 20 years in prison for selling visas at the US Consulate General in Vietnam.
Michael Todd Sestak, 41, was the non-immigrant visa chief in the Consular Section of the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City from August 2010 to September 2012.
US Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson informed Sestak that he faces up to 20 years in prison on charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and accepting bribes, according to a press release by Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia on June 4.
Sestak was arrested on May 13, 2013, in California and had been detained without bond following a hearing in the US District Court for the Central District of California.
He was removed to the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.), where the criminal complaint, dated May 6, 2013, was filed against him.
According to the U.S. government's evidence, beginning sometime in or around March 2012, Sestak agreed to approve visas to the United States for a fee.
According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, he conspired with other US and Vietnamese citizens who worked to recruit customers - or to recruit other recruiters - to Sestak's illegal visa-selling scheme.
They advertised a money-back guarantee for a visa to the US and particularly advertised that they could obtain visas for people who would not be able to obtain them otherwise, such as those who had been previously denied entry into the US.
They encouraged customers with the idea that they could overstay their visas and disappear in the US Applicants paid between US$20,000 and $70,000 per visa.
Vietnam's 2012 annual income per capita was $1,555.
To date, the investigation has seized over $2 million from an account of one of Sestak's co-conspirators in the US.
Two women implicated in the scheme, Hong Vo, 27, an American citizen, and Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, a Vietnamese citizen, have been charged with conspiring with Sestak and others.
Vo was recently arrested in Denver and is being held there while awaiting being transferred to Washington D.C. Huynh was arrested June 3.
The case is being investigated by the US Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brenda J. Johnson and Mona N. Sahaf of the National Security Section and Catherine K. Connelly of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, according the press release.

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