U.S. Foreign Service officer pleads guilty in visa-processing scheme

November 6, 2013

A U.S. Foreign Service officer pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to accepting more than $3 million in bribes in a visa-processing scheme that allowed nearly 500 foreign nationals to enter the United States.

Michael T. Sestak, who had worked in the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, since 2010, was arrested in May. Sestak, 42, was responsible for issuing visas after reviewing applications and conducting interviews.

As part of the plea agreement, Sestak admitted conspiring with U.S. and Vietnamese citizens to recruit customers who would pay $15,000 to $70,000 in exchange for non-immigrant visas from Vietnam to the United States. Many of his customers had previously been denied visas, according to the prosecutors.

U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen said Sestak’s scheme “corrupted the integrity of a process designed to screen visitors to the United States, a process that obviously has implications for our national security. His motivation for betraying his oath of office was cold, hard cash.”

Four others have been charged in the bribery and money-laundering conspiracy that generated at least $9.78 million. Sestak admitted trying to hide some of the proceeds through the purchase of nine properties in Thailand. Sestak, who is cooperating in the investigation, faces up to 24 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. He also has agreed to pay a money judgment of at least $6 million. A sentencing hearing has not been scheduled.

Ann covers legal affairs in the District and Maryland for the Washington Post. Ann previously covered state government and politics in California, New Hampshire and Maryland. She joined the Post in 2005.
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