American Citizen Pleads Guilty to Bribery of a Public Official And Conspiracy Charges
Scheme Yielded Millions of Dollars in Bribes
A Foreign Service official accused of selling hundreds of visas to residents of Vietnam pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges of conspiracy, bribery and money laundering.
WASHINGTON – Binh Vo, 41, an American citizen living in Vietnam, pled guilty today to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and visa fraud; bribery of a public official; and conspiracy to commit money laundering, announced U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and Bill A. Miller, Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS).
Vo entered the plea in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where a criminal information was pending against him. The plea agreement, which is contingent upon the Court’s approval, calls for a prison sentence between six and eight years, as well as forfeiture of nearly $5.1 million. The Honorable Emmet G. Sullivan scheduled sentencing for June 12, 2015.
Vo was arrested on Sept. 24, 2013, at Washington Dulles International Airport and has been held without bond ever since.
According to the statement of facts in support of his guilty plea, Vo conspired with co-defendant Michael Sestak and others to obtain visas to the United States for Vietnamese citizens. Sestak, 43, was the Non-Immigrant Visa Chief in the Consular Section of the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from August 2010 to September 2012.
According to the statement of facts, Vo and Sestak conspired with other U.S. citizens and Vietnamese citizens to advertise the scheme and recruit customers. Co-conspirators reached out to people in Vietnam and the United States and advertised the scheme by creating a website and by spreading the word through emails and telephone calls. The conspirators told potential customers that once the customer obtained a visa from the scheme, they could disappear, get married or return to Vietnam and be assured of receiving visas in the future.
According to the statement of facts, Vo and his co-conspirators received biographical information and photographs from customers and assisted them with their visa applications. Upon submitting an application, the applicants would receive an appointment at the Consulate, be interviewed by Sestak, and approved for a visa. Applicants or their families generally paid between $30,000 and $60,000 per visa. Nearly 500 fraudulent visas were issued as a result of the conspiracy.
Applicants paid for their visas in Vietnam, or by routing money to co-conspirators in the United States. Vo admitted to receiving millions of dollars for arranging for Sestak to approve the visas. He ultimately moved some of the money out of Vietnam by using money launderers to move funds through off-shore banks. Co-conspirators also had money laundered through off-shore banks to bank accounts in the United States.
In addition to Sestak, two others have pled guilty to participating in the scheme. They are Hong Vo, 29, an American citizen, and Truc Thanh Huynh, 31, a Vietnamese citizen, all of whom are charged with conspiring with Sestak and Binh Vo. Hong Vo is Binh Vo’s sister, and Truc Thanh Huynh is Bin Vo’s cousin.
According to the statement of facts, fraudulent visas granted by Sestak were connected to an Internet Protocol (“IP”) address controlled by Hong Vo. Huynh allegedly participated in the visa scheme by obtaining documents necessary for the visa applications, collecting money and providing model questions and answers for visa applicants. Sestak also allegedly approved a visa for Huynh to the United States, the application for which was submitted by the IP address controlled by Hong Vo.
The case was investigated and prosecuted by the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brenda J. Johnson, Alessio D. Evangelista of the National Security Section, Catherine K. Connelly and Jennifer Ambuehl of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, as well former Assistant United States Attorneys Christopher Kavanaugh, and Mona N. Sahaf.