A former intern for Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) pleaded guilty Thursday to illegally using the Congressman’s stationery and stamped signature in an attempt to obtain U.S. visas for 11 people from Cameroon.
Njock Eyong, a native of Cameroon, pleaded guilty to two counts of personation of a federal official and one count of visa fraud in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The 27-year-old University of Maryland graduate will be sentenced on July 13 and has agreed to the termination of his asylum status and an order of removal from the United States.
Eyong first came to the United States in 1999 and was granted asylum soon after, according to Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia, which handled the case.
Payne was traveling Friday and could not be reached for comment, according to an aide.
According to court documents, Eyong interned in Payne’s office from May to October 2003. During that time, Eyong made several attempts to bring Cameroonians to the United States, with only one ending successfully, Phillips said.
In August 2003, Eyong used Payne’s stationery and signature to send a faxed letter to the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, inviting Cameroon citizen Valery Donfack to the attend the annual meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. The letter also promised to cover travel, room and board, and other expenses for Donfack (even though the foundation was not covering costs for any visitors).
The same day Eyong faxed the letter, he called Donfack in Germany from Payne’s office in the Rayburn House Office Building. On Sept. 17 — the day U.S. Embassy officials granted Donfack a visa — Eyong placed another call to Donfack from Payne’s office.
And when Donfack got to the United States, he spent at least one night at Eyong’s residence, according to court documents.
“Neither Congressman Payne nor any member of his staff authorized defendant Eyong to invite Donfack or anyone else to the conference or the United States, did not authorize him to draft or fax the letter, and they did not have any interest in having a visa issued,” the guilty plea reads.
Around the same time, Eyong faxed similar letters to the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon asking for visas for nine Cameroonians so they could attend a Congressional Black Caucus conference.
Six of the people appeared at the embassy on Sept. 17 but were not granted the visas. After Eyong found out the visas had been denied, he personally called the embassy, telling consular authorities he worked for Payne and that the Congressman requested the visas be issued.
Officials still declined, however.
It was not the first time Eyong’s attempt to acquire a visa for a Cameroonian was denied. In May 2003, he sent a faxed letter to the U.S. Embassy in Berlin supporting a visa application put forth by Oben Tabi Eyong, court documents show.
“Oben Tabi Eyong and Njock claimed to be brothers, but that is a matter in dispute,” Phillips said.
The letter — written on Payne’s stationery and featuring his signature — requested that Oben Tabi Eyong be able to attend Njock Eyong’s upcoming university graduation.
Eyong was arrested in 2006 after a three-year investigation, which began “very soon” after the letters were sent, Phillips said. Public defender A.J. Kramer, who represented Eyong in the case, declined to comment Friday afternoon.
But according to court documents, while Eyong admitted he conceived the plot and was directly involved, he claims a man named Stephen Ndip also took part. (Ndip is now dead, Phillips said.)
Investigators looked into the claim, Phillips added.
“Whatever Ndip’s participation, it was … Eyong who took Ndip to the Congressman’s office, gave him the stationery, told him where the signature stamp was,” Phillips said.
Eyong also admitted that he faxed the letters and made the phone calls, Phillips added.