A State Department officer has been accused of selling visas for sex and money in what may have been a massive human trafficking operation, The Daily Caller has learned.
The State Department acknowledged last week that one of its officials is the target of a probe over “allegations of improprieties relating to a Consular Officer formerly assigned to Georgetown, Guyana” without providing further details. Local media are also claiming the official, who was recently withdrawn from normal duties pending completion of an official investigation, associated with drug lords as part of his visa scam.
The scandal began when executives and tourists complained that their visa applications were being held up, and local media began reporting that a visa official was demanding bribes and sex in exchange for visas.
The Daily Caller has identified the suspect as Edy Zohar Rodrigues Duran, formerly of Mission, Texas, and currently living in Falls Church, Va.
Duran was removed from his post at the Guyanese capital of Georgetown in June of this year, months short of his scheduled September 2013 departure date, according to Mark A. Benschop and Julia Johnson, two Guyanese journalists who spoke with TheDC from Guyana.
It is unclear whether Duran has been fired or placed on administrative leave within the State Department, but according to a dating profile he created on June 23, 2013, he is looking for work in Falls Church.
The investigations began in February. Duran left Georgetown about three weeks ago.
Duran has been “accused of selling visas to many corrupt businessmen [and] drug dealers … for as low as US$15,000,” according to a news report in the Guyana Observer News. “The Feds have not stumbled on concrete evidence on the issue of money for visas, but sufficient evidence on the sex for visas.”
Agence France Presse also reported last week that the embassy was “investigating allegations that a consular officer who worked at the post was selling visas for thousands of dollars.”
AFP quoted a Guyanese official saying Duran “had negotiated to sell visas for as much as $40,000, using a popular restaurant and bar in Georgetown, the capital of this former British colony, to seal the deals.” According to AFP, Duran also travelled to neighboring Suriname, a frequent stop for Chinese migrants on the way to the United States.
“The embassy wanted a hush-hush on this whole affair,” says Benschop, radio host and publisher of the Guyana Observer. Duran was “demoted from the marriage and visa section and placed in a warehouse far away from the embassy. His tour of duty would have come to an end in September. All of these things caused eyebrows to be raised.”
Benschop and Johnson claim that Duran had been known to frequent the Hibiscus Restaurant, a known hangout for drug lords.
“The Hibiscus was Duran’s main meeting place. There are others he would frequent, but the Hibiscus was an almost daily call,” Benschop told TheDC.
A photograph provided to TheDC appears to show Duran at another drug-dealer haunt, a casino in the Georgetown suburbs.
“The officer was said to have frequented Hibiscus Restaurant, Middle Street, Georgetown where a number of visa deals were sealed prior to the applicants’ arrival at the embassy,” reported Dennis Scot Chabroi of Demerara Waves Online News. According to Scot, Duran was also demanding sex in addition to the $40,000 reported by other media.
Julia Johnson (no relation), a publisher with Prime News TV, says that Guyana is home to people-smuggling operations because of its porous border with neighboring Suriname.
“We became aware of a scam going on at the embassy when many legitimate visa applicants were being turned down,” Johnson told TheDC. Rather than approving journalists and other Guyanese professionals for a U.S. visa, Johnson says that Duran instead approved “questionable characters” for visas to the United States at the last possible moment before the Guyanese quota would have been used up.
When Johnson showed photos of Duran to the visa applicants they all identified him as the officer who had turned them down. Johnson said she has also heard from her sources that Duran was having sex with several young Indo-Guyanese women.
Johnson doubts that some of those being approved for visas to the United States are even Guyanese.
“There are quite a few Chinese and Indians coming through from Suriname. It’s easy enough to blend in,” said Johnson, who pointed out that faking (or illegally receiving genuine) Guyanese national documents is commonplace in the third world country and a common tactic of gangs like the Triads to smuggle people into the United States.
Johnson suspects that Duran was working with drug lords to bring people into the United States illegally.
Duran was on his first tour of duty in Georgetown and was formerly a schoolteacher in Texas.
After months of stonewalling and denials, the State Department, which is investigating the matter itself, released a statement on Independence Day.
“The Department of State is aware of allegations of improprieties relating to a Consular Officer formerly assigned to Georgetown, Guyana,” the statement read. “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.”
William “Will” Ostick, the State Department’s Western Hemisphere Affairs spokesman, did not respond to inquiries from The Daily Caller.
Duran also did not reply to phone calls from TheDC at two numbers, one of which was disconnected, although he has in the meantime updated his profile at Meetup.com.
Duran would not be the first state Department official caught selling visas from Guyana. In 2000, U.S. consular officer Thomas Carroll sold as many as 800 visas for $10,000 to $15,000 each. Carroll was sentenced to 21 years in prison but that sentence was later reduced.
The news of the scam came just days after the publication of The Thomas Carroll Affair by David Casavis, which documented Carroll’s massive visa scam operation and about a week before Carroll’s release from prison on June 25.