US Embassy officer under investigation for visa sales

A United States consular officer is being investigated for allegedly selling visas while stationed in Guyana.

Ed Durante, of Mission, Texas, United States was three weeks ago sent back to his home country

Ed Durante
Ed Durante

on instructions of the US Department of State to facilitate the ‘visa for sale’ probe, just two months short of completing a three-year stint here.

When contacted for comment, the US Embassy here yesterday stated:

“The Department of State is aware of allegations of improprieties relating to a Consular Officer formerly assigned to Georgetown, Guyana.”

“The Department takes all allegations of misconduct by employees seriously.  We are reviewing the matter thoroughly.  If the allegations are substantiated, we will work with the relevant authorities to hold anyone involved accountable. ”

A source, however, said preliminary findings of the probe have resulted in Durante being summoned to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, in Virginia. He remains in the state and is barred from leaving until investigations are complete. The source could not give a timeframe of how long this will be but said that given the seriousness of the allegations, “the Department will work swift and expeditiously.”

The allegations are that Durante sold visas to locals for sums ranging from USD$15,000 (GY$3M) to $40,000 ($8M).

Sources have told Stabroek News that shortly after arriving in Guyana in 2011, Durante made friends with locals of questionable characters and frequented many places without clearance from the embassy.  It is through these friendships that the links to persons who needed visas were made. He would also make frequent trips to Corentyne, Berbice.

Among his friends and associates are a popular restaurant owner, a  jeweller, a store owner and a stationery dealer. Some of the persons have known ties to the drug underworld.

A source informed that based on preliminary investigations, Durante received help from embassy staff to facilitate the transactions, since interviews were allegedly fixed to make him the interviewing officer for the visa applicants who paid.

Another source said that the embassy, upon receiving the information, immediately relayed the information to initiate an investigation, with the assistance of local embassy staff.

Local police yesterday said that they were unaware of the investigations and assistance was not requested by the United States. “No I don’t know that the US are doing an investigation, no request was made. No information was provided to us,” Crime Chief Seelall Persaud said when asked.

If the allegations against Durante prove to be true, this would be further embarrassment for the embassy in wake of renewed interest in one of the more infamous cases..

Thomas Carroll engineered a similar scam at the US embassy here the late 1990s—an offence for which he was later charged and convicted.

Carroll, an Economic Affairs Officer at the embassy, was arrested in March of 2000 for selling up to 800 visas for entry into the United States for bribes of between US$10,000 and US$15,000 each. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States Government, issuing false visa documents and bribing an official.

Carroll’s attempts to recruit US embassy officer Benedict Wolfe to continue the fraudulent scheme blew open the scam.

Carroll has served a truncated term for his involvement in the sale of US visas and the bribery of an official at the US embassy in Georgetown.

The United States diplomat was 32 years old at the time when he was sentenced in June 2002 to 21 years by a Federal Court in Chicago, Illinois. The sentence was later reduced on appeal.

When the visa racket ring was busted, Guyana born Halim Khan was also arrested. He too faced charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and visa fraud. He was sentenced to 38 months imprisonment in the US, which included the time that he had been in prison since his arrest in March 2000.

Members of the Guyana Police Force had earlier testified before a US grand jury in the case against Carroll and the government has said that there is no evidence of the police’s involvement in the visa scam.

The allegations brought against Durante comes on the heels of the release of a book, which was written by US Professor David Casavis about the Carroll visa scam.

The contents of the book, which speaks predominantly about Carroll, have created a buzz here and in the Diaspora.

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