By Will Ripley, KUSA-TV
DENVER - Federal prosecutors call it a multi-million dollar global scheme with strong ties to Colorado.
A University of Denver graduate is in federal custody, accused of helping hundreds of Vietnamese citizens enter the United States illegally.
Federal prosecutors say the scheme yielded millions of dollars in bribes.
They arrested one of the key players here in Denver, but say the criminal activity was happening 8,400 miles away in Ho Chi Mihn City, Vietnam.
Prosecutors say more than 500 people paid thousands of dollars to sneak into the U.S. using fraudulent visas and many of those people may now be hiding out in our country.
Federal prosecutors say there were two sides to Hong Vo.
The 27-year-old has a marketing degree from DU and no criminal record.
"She's a very bright, intelligent, ambitious woman," Lam Vo said.
Vo shares a last name with Hong Vo but they're not related.
He says her arrest shocked Vo's friends in Colorado's close-knit Vietnamese community.
He says there is a lot of concern in that community that this case could have a negative impact on honest people trying to come to the U.S. the legal way.
Vo is now in federal custody without bond.
"First of all, it is illegal. Second of all, it is unethical," Lam Vo said.
Hong Vo is an American citizen from Denver accused of conspiring with her Vietnamese relative Tranh Huynh.
Prosecutors say the cousins teamed up with a U.S. Foreign Service Officer in Ho Chi Mihn City, Michael Sestak.
The 28-page criminal complaint from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia says Vo and Huynh recruited customers who could not legally enter the U.S.
Customers paid between $20,000 and $70,000 for Sestak to approve each fraudulent visa.
The affidavit says those Vietnamese citizens were told they could easily "overstay their visas and disappear into the United States."
Sestak served as best man in an elaborate Vo family wedding that reportedly cost more than $300,000.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia says their investigation has seized more than $2 million in bribes so far.
They're working to track down more than 500 people entered our country illegally.
"These 500 people I hope that we can find them," DU law professor Ved Nanda said.
Nanda says U.S. authorities need to be vigilant.
"The concern is terrorism," Nanda said. "And all those issues of national security."
Those who came to the United States illegally paid tens of thousands of dollars, a small fortune in communist Vietnam, where the average worker earns about $150 a month.
"Who is behind that money? Who is the one who has asked them to come? To do what? That is the potential harm. That is the unknown. That is the one that we are to be worried about," Nanda said.
Before her arrest, Vo lived with her parents, in an upscale Denver neighborhood.
A woman who identified herself as Vo's mother had no comment when reached at her home Tuesday evening.
Vo's attorney in Washington, DC Robert Feitel issued a statement to 9Wants to Know on behalf of his client which reads in part:
"Our client, Hong Vo, entered a plea of not guilty in this case and we continue to assert her innocence to these charges. The government has received information from a witness which supports her claim of innocence. This witness provided the information under a grant of immunity which means that the witness had no motive to lie."
All three defendants are being held without bond.
Feitel says he plans to appeal that at Vo's next court hearing on September 13.
9Wants to Know is still seeking comment from attorneys for the other two defendants in the case.
(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)