Most federal employees probably believe they are not in a position to be tempted by offers of money or other items of value in return for granting favors.
But, in the event you should ever find yourself in this position, you may want to think twice. And, if that isn’t enough, think a few more times about doing something as stupid as documenting your actions.
A career state department official working at the US Consulate in Toronto, Canada has a problem. He is (or at least he was) the deputy nonimmigrant visa chief at the U.S. Consulate there. O’Keefe has now been indicted by a grand jury in the District of Columbia on allegations contending that he accepted items of value in return for being influenced in expediting the handling of applications and issuing visas. He is potentially facing a prison sentence of 15 years and a substantial fine.
The State Department has the responsibility of reviewing applications by foreign nationals who want to receive a visa to enter the country. Qualified applicants receive a visa and the responsibility for making decisions on these applications is typically delegated to consulate officers. With terrorism on the priority list for a number of agencies, the State Department has been cracking down on controls of non-immigrant visas granted to students or employees for American companies.
Michael John O’Keefe, Sr. was employed as a consulate officer and had certain responsibility and authority with regard to the visa application process. This authority may have been very important and valuable to some and it appears he is now in considerable trouble.
O’Keefe has been charged in connection with an indictment with accepting airline tickets from Toronto to New York and Las Vegas for himself and two exotic dancers, along with hotel accommodations, meals, and expenses. He was also allegedly given jewelry by an executive for a jewelry company.
Apparently grateful for the various items given to him and sometimes sent appreciative remarks to the benefactor for the items through an e-mail account–copies of which are now apparently in the possession of the federal government.
According to the indictment, O’Keefe sent an e-mail to a jewelry executive complaining that he was "growing tired of much of the argument over visas," and thanked him for the expense-paid trip to New York City for himself and two exotic dancers, explaining that "spending two days with [both exotic dancers, and] showing them the city, really helped me to relax." He also apologized for explaining his work-related problems
In return, O’Keefe allegedly set up personal interviews with visa applicants sponsored by the company.
The career official apparently really enjoyed the trip to New York. A few months later, he allegedly sent another e-mail telling the jewelry official he would like to go to Las Vegas "because it is a place where I can lose my stiff diplomatic persona and just act like everyone else." Allegedly, the executive subsequently arranged for an expense-paid trip to Vegas for the federal official and the two exotic dancers at the Mirage Hotel.
According to US Attorney Kenneth Wainstein, “U.S. Consular Officials are on the front line of our border protection. “A consular official who violates the rules for personal gain not only erodes public trust in our visa system, but seriously jeopardizes our national security.”
The indictment also charged Sunil Agrawal, a 47-year-old native of India and the chief executive a the New-York based company called STS Jewels.
The statement from the US Attorney’s office also notes that "An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of criminal laws. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until found guilty."