IDCA president charged with bribery and conspiracy

A veteran U.S. diplomat is charged with trading work visas for lavish dinners, New York City hotel rooms, jewelry, and Las Vegas trips with exotic dancers, The Associated Press reports.

Michael John O’Keefe, the deputy nonimmigrant visa chief at the U.S. Consulate in Toronto, was indicted on bribery and conspiracy charges Friday.

International jewelry executive Sunil Agrawal, a native of India, also was charged but remains at large. Agrawal is the current president of the Indian Diamond and Colorstone Association.

Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, authorities have worked to tighten controls over nonimmigrant visas like those granted to students, tourists, and workers.

Friday’s indictment, however, describes a scheme in which O’Keefe fast-tracked applications for Agrawal’s company, New York-based STS Jewels, the AP reports.

O’Keefe personally handled STS applications, going so far as to approve some that had been rejected, even when a subordinate noted that terrorists use jewelry to raise money, the indictment reportedly says. O’Keefe awarded 21 visas to STS employees, according to the indictment.

In exchange, Agrawal allegedly lavished him with gifts.

On Jan. 4, 2004, in the weeks leading up to one visa application, the AP reports that Agrawal allegedly wrote O’Keefe an e-mail that said, “Your hotel booking is confirmed in Hilton Millennium in Midtown Manhattan. Two rooms are booked in your name. The car service will be there at the airport to take you to the hotel.”

The next day, prosecutors reportedly said, O’Keefe received a $3,000 ring from Agrawal.

In June, after renewing visas for five STS managers, O’Keefe and two exotic dancers flew to Las Vegas, prosecutors said. Agrawal is accused of paying more than $5,400 for airfare, hotels, meals, and incidentals for the trip.

O’Keefe, 59, of Portsmouth, N.H., did not enter a plea during the hearing, the AP reports. He could face up to 15 years in prison prosecutors reportedly said. Authorities seized his diplomatic passport but a federal magistrate said O’Keefe could not be released until his tourist passport could be located. A hearing was set for Monday.