Jilted informant helps crack massive US visa fraud

By Calvin Godfrey, TN News

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Vietnam man who exposed visa fraud left in the lurch by US investigators


A year ago, the US consulate in Ho Chi Minh City received a letter from a jilted man in central Vietnam that helped them crack a US$10-million fraud they otherwise might have never learned about.
Now he wants his fiancé back. He wants his money back. He wants President Obama to reform the US immigration system. And he wants protection from the roughly 410 people who should get deported any day now because he talked.
He has asked, for the purposes of this story, to be referred to only as Lan.
An Bang Style
In May of 2012, Lan says his pregnant fiancé had asked him for $20,000.
She had interviewed for a visa at the US embassy in Hanoi on seven other occasions and been denied, he says.
"She lied to me," Lan told Vietweek during one of many telephone interviews. "She said she wanted to travel and come back to Vietnam."
After borrowing another $35,000 from her family she headed to Saigon and was instantly approved for a visa. Three days later, he says she boarded a plane to Miami where she met up with relatives who owned a nail salon.
After about a month in America, Lan says she stopped calling. Then, he watched in horror as she aborted their unborn child, married a Vietnamese American man and moved to Seattle.
Lan traces his sorrows back to An Bang - a 6,000-person beachfront hamlet 20 kilometers outside of Hue.
Many of the residents grew up enjoying remittances from wealthy relatives who emigrated to Florida and Texas. Fishing has gone from a livelihood to a pastime. Instead of working, many in the town drink and build elaborate ancestral tombs in the town's outsized cemetery.
Dreams of marrying a rich American loomed large in the minds of young women in An Bang, according to Lan. He claims that women would marry in the States for two years, divorce and then come back to Vietnam to collect their real families.
Lan now estimates that between May and July of last year, roughly 70 people (most of them women aged 18-23) paid bribes to a US consular officer's intermediaries for tourist visas. Some got to America and enrolled in classes to obtain student visas. Others entered sham marriages.
"First I called the consulate, but it wasn't successful," he said. "Then I sent them a letter."
Last June, Lan sent pictures and personal details of seven of these women to the Fraud Investigator at the Ho Chi Minh City consulate. He also filed an online complaint with the State Department's Office of Inspector General.
As he waited for a response, he monitored the lives of those who had left him behind and stewed.
"I watched their smiling, happy lives unfold on Facebook," he said adding that he became too depressed to continue working.
The investigation
Throughout the summer and fall of 2012, investigators from the US Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) milked Lan like a dairy cow.
The State Department declined to discuss the case. One DSS Agent named in the emails directed all inquiries to the Department of Justice, which never replied to a list of questions. Another seemed to confirm Lan's claims while denying that the US government could help him.
According to emails he has forwarded to Vietweek, he provided them with the personal details of women (including his former fiancé) who paid their way into America.
In the exchange, the agents allude to the possibility of a special visa in exchange for Lan's cooperation. Lan asked the agents to invite him to America to testify, but they urged him to meet them in Saigon.
"I wanted to go to America and stop her wedding," he says now.
After his former fiancé started posting her engagement photos in early-September, Lan agreed to meet a DSS agent in Saigon. Last October, he says, he went to the consular offices in Diamond Plaza and spent three hours answering questions.
He identified an older An Bang resident with a hotel in Phu Nhuan District who had collected $55,000 from each of the illegal migrants.
The DSS Agents traced the IP addresses used to secure visas for the women named by Lan to the email accounts of Vo Chau Hong (a pretty 28-year-old IT developer from Denver) and her older brother Vo Tang Binh who had moved to Ho Chi Minh City in the 1990s and made more than a million dollars setting up and selling off a relocation company.
The case
In subsequent court filings, the agents alleged that the family deliberately befriended a lonely ex-cop from Albany named Michael Todd Sestak, who happened to run the HCMC non-immigrant visa division, one of the five busiest in the world.
In their most recent indictment, Federal prosecutors alleged that Sestak rubber-stamped roughly 410 visa applications forwarded to him by Hong, Binh and their relatives between February and September of 2012. In return, prosecutors say Sestak got a little less than $3 million.
And he was no longer lonely. In a video taken from Binh Vo's lavish wedding, the lumbering Sestak is accompanied by a stunning young woman in a red dress.
Sestak has already confessed to the crime.
In the meantime, the 45-kilo Hong is being held in a Federal detention center in DC awaiting trial. According to a motion filed by her attorneys, she has remained in isolation 23 hours a day and is permitted to bathe just three times a week.
This isolation was apparently intended to keep her from communicating with Truc Tranh Huynh - her 29-year-old Vietnamese cousin who was arrested while vacationing in DC and is being held in the same facility.
Binh, the alleged mastermind of the scheme, remains at large with his beauty queen wife and what investigators estimate is $5 million in ill-gotten visa money.
High and dry
Before Sestak's arrest, the consulate fired three Vietnamese employees working in the non-immigrant visa department - including a longtime fraud investigator.
Coverage of the case in this paper and others quoted affidavits filed by DSS agents crediting an "anonymous source" for informing them about 50-70 villagers who bought visas to America in a three-month period.
It seems without Lan, there wouldn't have been any case. But, he says, he's received nothing for his help. The DSS agents he had worked with stopped returning his calls and emails.
He wasn't exactly easy to handle.
He complained of threats from his ex-fiancé's family, whom he'd confronted about the money he leant her. Her brother began threatening him. Lan demanded justice and protection, claiming, at one point, that if they didn't deport the illegal An Bang migrants he'd post naked pictures of his former fiancé all over her Facebook page.
In November of 2012, he posted his entire story on a site offering free legal advice.
According to the emails provided by Lan, the DSS agents advised him to stay quiet and wait for the investigation to play out. But by the time Sestak was arrested, it had already been a long and miserable year - truly the stuff of a cai luong ballad. Lan says he lost his job, most of his money and he couldn't stop thinking about getting back the woman he loved.
So he created a Facebook page in Sestak's name and plastered it with pictures of the women he claims paid for visas. He also launched a website (anbangstyle.vv.si) featuring excerpts from his email exchanges with the investigators. At one point, he wrote a letter to President Barack Obama.
"You used my information from me and I have worked with you one year... give you more information," he wrote to the agents in early June. "I was a witness, so that you leave for me in danger, no money, no job, ruined my family. You used me and then you push me to death."
Reached by phone, DSS Special Agent Tai N. Pham - whose business card was scanned onto Lan's website - dismissed the claims.
"We tried to keep him anonymous," Pham said. "Law enforcement has no authority to promise anyone anything [...] If someone is truly being threatened it's hard for me to believe he'd put everything he told law enforcement out there online."
Lan says he continues to receive threats from his former fiancé's family (who paid handsomely to get her to the States) and from unidentified mobile phone numbers. He expects that once the US Immigration authorities begin deporting Sestak's former clients, Vietnam will be full of people who want him dead.
He says he has no hope now save an American attorney who agreed to help him apply for something commonly referred to as a "snitch" visa.
Even if he gets one, though, he says he's completely broke and broken.
"I don't even want one anymore," he said. "But I can't stay here."

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