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Corruption Chronicles

U.S. Visas For Sale

A high-ranking State Department official has been indicted for accepting bribes from a wealthy Indian jewelry executive in exchange for 21 U.S. visas that had previously been denied to allow foreigners to work at her company’s New York headquarters.

Many of the visas that State Department deputy visa chief, Michael O’Keefe, was paid to issue had been previously rejected by agency officials who pointed out new guidelines–tighter controls–for such nonimmigrant visas since the September 11 attacks. Additionally, several of the applications were denied based on documented reports that many terrorists use jewelry to raise money.

In fact, the company (STS Jewels) that bribed O’Keefe for the visas was named in a lawsuit by relatives of three victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks following reports that sales of tanzanite supported al Qaeda cells in East Africa.

Based in Manhattan, STS Jewels deals in tanzanite and its native Indian chief executive, Sunil Agrawal, imports workers from that region to run the shop. Agrawal has also been charged for bribing O’Keefe.

The federal indictment details how Agrawal gave O’Keefe free flights to Las Vegas with exotic dancers, expensive meals, lavish hotel rooms and other bribes to speed up the visa process and assure that the visas were granted. Now O’Keefe, the deputy visa chief at the U.S. Consulate in Toronto, faces bribery and conspiracy charges.


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