Visas for Vegas? State Department Official Charged with Taking Bribes

Aug 25, 2006 11:50am

A State Department official allegedly accepted round trip airline tickets to Las Vegas for himself and two exotic dancers, hotel rooms, jewelry, expensive meals and a job reference in exchange for visas.  The official who is based in Toronto has been charged with accepting bribes in exchange for issuing visas for employees of a jewel distributor based in New York. The official, Michael John O’Keefe, Sr. was Deputy Nonimmigrant Chief in the U.S. consulate in Toronto.  Sunil Agrawal, CEO of STS Jewels, Inc., is also charged in the indictment.    O’Keefe allegedly also expedited interviews to benefit Agrawal and his business. Agrawal is an Indian national with legal permanent resident status in the U.S. The indictment alleges that O’Keefe issued 21 visas to persons sponsored by Agrawal’s company.    O’Keefe also allegedly overruled one other state department official who raised concerns about al Qaeda’s involvement in the jewelry trade with regards to one of Agrawal’s applicants.   Agrawal had been sued by three survivors of 9/11 over allegations that the gem stone tanzanite was being used by al Qaeda to finance operations.  That suit was dismissed.  In 2002 O’Keefe, then on the Africa desk of the State Department personally delivered a speech to a gem stone conference in Tucson, Ariz., in which he reportedly said, "We have seen no evidence that al Qaeda or any other terrorist group is currently using tanzanite sales to finance its efforts or to launder money,"  It was at this conference that O’Keefe is believed to have met his co-defendant, Agrawal.

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