Featured Post

Castro and the Nazis: Makes Perfect Sense

As we come up on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, we see newly declassified German intelligence documents reporting that Fi...

Friday, June 13, 2014

Big Fraud in the Far Abroad: Part VI, The Investigation Begins to Bear Fruit, and the Pace of Events Picks Up

OK, I have used the last hanky; my eyes are puffy from crying about how I was mistreated; but now without further tears and self pity, I resume the story of the greatest visa fraud in State Department history.

As mentioned in part V, after the drama provoked by the BS episode, I got read into the investigation. If you remember in part II, we had received a partial account of an interview by ATF of an Indian national on a tourist visa apprehended in California with a truckload of smuggled cigarettes. That Indian national had said that, in exchange for not being deported or jailed, he could tell INS a good story about a major visa fraud operation underway.  He proceeded to give details that while not right in all aspects were close enough for government work as a description of AC and Long as the masterminds of the fraud. Our RSO had gone back for more information and alerted DS (Diplomatic Security) in Washington of our preliminary suspicions that the corrupt visa officer described by the gray market tobacco merchant was none other than our own AC. Slowly, slowly an investigation began to be put together in DC; it began looking into past assignments for AC and Long, and for any smoking gun that an illicit visa operation involving corrupt US officers was functioning.

The big break came thanks to my Dutch friend's sharp eye (part III).  If you recall, while working at the airport in a prescreening operation, she had detected an Indian national traveling to Amsterdam from Colombo with a US visa he had obtained that day after fewer than 24 hours in Colombo. At my request, she had the Sri Lankans pull him out of the passenger line and hold him for us. At about daybreak, the Deputy RSO and a local vetted employee interviewed this Indian national at a holding facility at Colombo's international airport. The story the detained Indian told placed the crosshairs firmly on AC and Long. He was indignant that people kept asking if his US visa was fake; he angrily noted that he had paid well over $10,000 to a businessman in India who guaranteed that he would receive an authentic US visa in Colombo directly from the US embassy--no forgery, no fake. He had been handed a sealed note which he, in turn, was to hand to AC at the consulate; he then would receive a genuine non-immigrant visa (I don't remember if it was a business or tourist visa). He described AC perfectly and noted that a Sri Lankan employee, an attractive woman whom he also described, had helped AC process this visa apart from the others. The RSO's folks had gone back to the consular section and found the record of this visa issuance, and several other similar ones, by AC. The RSO briefed the Ambassador who made--from my perspective--the unfortunate decision to keep me out of the investigation because I would find find it "too uncomfortable" to deal with Long and AC while knowing they were being investigated.

The RSO had begun monitoring AC and Long. The local investigation revealed that we had before us an onion--there were layers and layers and layers to what was happening. Let me jump forward at this moment and let you know that I never felt that we got to the last layer; I told that to the FBI. We'll get back to that. Well, in fact, let me jump to one "layer" that always bothered me. The question of whether our Long Lee was the same Long Lee who had served at our embassy in Saigon. With the destruction of records and the disorganization that followed the evacuation of that embassy that issue could not be resolved--I thought--one hundred percent. One retired FSO who looked at her picture claimed, nay, insisted to investigators that she was not the Long Lee he had known in Saigon. Never resolved as far as I know.

Let's move on.

There now follows a jumble of events. I cannot swear to the order in which they occurred--but they did occur. Let me start with monkeys. I swear Long had a sixth sense, or maybe I was too sensitive. It struck me, however, that no sooner than I had gotten up-to-date on the investigation, Long made a very strong effort to get as close to my wife and me as possible. She insisted that we go with her, AC, the "daughter" who had gone to Jakarta with my wife, her handicapped "daughter" from Africa, an adopted young "son" from Vietnam, and another "daughter" visiting from Virginia with her boyfriend to an exotic hotel/spa in Dambulla-Kandalama. She had gotten a special rate on the luxury suites. We would have catered meals in a private dining room, and tours were set up to the Buddhist monastery, elephant rides, and on and on. The place was famous for its numerous and aggressive monkeys who would pick your pockets and burst into your hotel room in pursuit of the fruit basket if you didn't keep your windows locked. Even then, the  monkeys would bang on your window until you caved in and gave them the damn fruit basket.

I did not want to go. The thought of being trapped with this gang for three or four days did not appeal to me. The Ambassador and RSO, however, asked me to go so as not to raise suspicions. Those were some long days--no pun intended. I had to listen to AC's get rich-quick schemes allegedly involving the stock market--I knew better--and how he and Long were investing in a Vietnamese restaurant in Medford, Oregon and calling it "Lemon Grass." He also had plans to open a limo service in Golden, Colorado and have Long's "daughter" from Virginia move there to operate it. He also told me he was thinking of quitting the job in the consulate and heading off to the States to supervise the setting up of these businesses. All this while walking barefoot up what seemed hundreds of steps to a monastery while being assailed by thieving, dirty, and all around quite nasty monkeys.

The news that AC was thinking of leaving pushed the investigators into a higher gear. We now monitored AC and Long's email accounts, and assigned a surveillance team to follow the couple and keep the their residence under observation. Long and AC used a crude code in their emails that involved quite a bit of baseball terminology; "umpire," for example, was the Ambassador. I, for some reason, did not get a baseball-related name. No, I was the non-glamorous "Searchlight." On many days, I would read their emails and see "Searchlight is very dim and has no idea of anything," "I gave Searchlight a load of crap today and he believed it all," etc. This did not make for amiable relations, even of the pretend kind, but I think I pulled it off.

This went on for eighteen exhausting months. There was always some new facet being uncovered. My wife, for example, uncovered one scam. She worked in the security office's program of home security supervising the local electricians installing and repairing of burglar and fire alarm systems in our residences. One day, the alarm systems at Long's residence ceased to work; Long was very concerned about security at her house and asked the RSO to send somebody right away. My wife and her crew got dispatched. While at Long's house, the Diplowife opened a bedroom door and found the "daughter," let's call her Lucy, who had accompanied her and Long to Jakarta. This ordinarily would have meant nothing except that Long had told us that Lucy was heading back to the States to go to school, and that she had left post several days before. The Sri Lankan immigration service confirmed that she had left, and US INS that she had arrived in Los Angeles. There was no record of her return.

Very early the next day, around 7 am or so, I was in my office reading some cable traffic when Long slipped in and sat down. She did it so smoothly and silently that I did not even notice she was in the office until she spoke. I jerked up my head in surprise as she said, out of the blue, "Your wife was at my house yesterday fixing the alarms. She probably told you that she saw Lucy there. She didn't. She saw Lucy's twin sister who is visiting. Lucy is in LA."

Keeping on my best poker face, I said, "OK, fine, no problem," and returned to my cable traffic. As soon as Long left, I called the RSO and told him about this odd little visit, and suggested that we check again on whether Lucy, in fact, had left the country. That revealed another aspect of Long's business. Relying on the belief, apparently not too far off the mark, that Asian women all look alike to American immigration officials, she would "loan" her family's diplomatic passports to Vietnamese girls and women who could pass for the ones pictured in those passports. She would have their hair and clothes arranged to look as much like the passport photos as possible. The ladies would fly into LAX on these diplomatic passports, and get picked up by a Vietnamese madam who ran a large prostitution business in Southern California. The women would be relieved of the passports, which would be sent by FEDEX back to Long. Long charged several thousand dollars for each use of this "loaner" service.  

Let me post this as I have to do some more moving related stuff. We have just landed back in LA from DC. I will get back to this saga in a day or so.

10 comments:

  1. Ghastly, knowing that these girls were going for prostitution purposes. it's one thing to slip people in the US illegally, it's quite another level of evil to know that they are being sold.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The prostitution thing raises my hackles. When I was doing consular work in Bangkok, we were told long and loud to watch out for fake adoptions and other such things that might be cover for human trafficking. I am frankly waiting with baited breath for the next installment, and urge you to put this stuff together in a book. FSO's know how to write, and your book would sell, I'm sure.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Also, with all due respect to decent Vietnamese folks, when I was with the Orderly Departure Program back in the 1990's, our rule of thumb was, "If it's Vietnamese and a document, it's fake." The only exceptions were Roman Catholic family registers, family correspondence we were allowed to read, and Sino-Viet lists of mourners on the deaths of elderly persons.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The IRS man in charge also said that if someone looked "mixed", we should admit him under the Mrazek legislation (Amerasian Homecoming Act). I'm sure we got a lot of grandkids of Frenchmen and Senegalese that way.

      Delete
  4. " while being assailed by thieving, dirty, and all around quite nasty monkeys." You had time to go to a Democratic fund raiser during all of this?
    James the Lesser

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The monkeys were the democratic fund raiser :-)

      Delete
    2. It does feel like they're trying to pick my pocket.

      Delete
  5. When I was on the county medical association credentials committee in the mid-1970s, we had a large influx of Vietnamese physicians. The NV government would not provide any documents so the faculties of Vietnamese medical schools, several of which had escaped en masse, convened and reissued diplomas.

    It was interesting to see the medical and patient communities reorganize in Orange County CA where we were. Many of the physicians had the same population of patients that they had had in Vietnam. Entire communities reconstituted themselves.

    Something similar occurred in Britain with Pakistanis but the culture is quite different. The Vietnamese I have met were all middle class and have become good citizens. One physician I met several years ago, has retired from the Defense Department after working there since 1975. He told me his father had a pharmacy in Vietnam. He had a photo on his desk of four generations including his father and his grandson.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Diplomad, Sorry, this is off topic, but I want to ask you about the performance of our ambassador to Thailand and you don't have a "contact me" type of link on your page.

    See this for why I am asking:

    http://www.michaelyon-online.com/us-threatens-to-cut-10-million-aid-to-thailand-not-a-joke.htm

    ReplyDelete
  7. I suggest you review the record of Vernon MacInege CG in Mexico City, Manila, Seoul, and Bogota and aspired to be head of the consular service for fraud. Next look at one Pedro Sanchez, a creature who maintained hotel rooms at each post for his "visa" applicants and female staff members.l

    ReplyDelete