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Suspect at center of Navy bribery scandal due in court

November 17, 2013|By Tony Perry
  • The Blue Ridge, command ship of the U.S. 7th Fleet, is one of the ships whose movements were altered by a bribery scheme, according to federal prosecutors.
The Blue Ridge, command ship of the U.S. 7th Fleet, is one of the ships whose… (U.S. Navy )

The owner of a Singapore-based company who was arrested in September in connection with a multimillion-dollar fraud and bribery scheme that has rocked the U.S. Navy, is due in court this week in hopes of getting bail.

Leonard Glenn Francis, a 49-year-old Malaysian national, was arrested in San Diego, where he had been duped into thinking he was arriving for a business meeting. He is being held without bail in federal prison.

Prosecutors consider him a flight risk and oppose his request for bail.

Also charged in the case are Alex Wisidagama, one of Francis’ executives; Navy commanders Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz and Jose Luis Sanchez and Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent John Beliveau II.

Each has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy.

Francis’ firm, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, provided services to the U.S. Navy for more than 25 years in ports from South Korea to Hong Kong.

According to the indictments, Francis bribed Misiewicz, 46, and Sanchez, 41, with first-class air travel to exotic locations, five-star hotel accommodations, the use of a Mercedes-Benz, cash, prostitutes and tickets to see Lady Gaga in Thailand and "The Lion King" in Tokyo. Both men were on the staff of the Japan-based 7th Fleet and privy to inside information.

The two Navy officers used their influence to make sure Navy ships such as the aircraft carriers John C. Stennis and George Washington were routed to ports where the marine services company was influential, prosecutors say.

Beliveau II, 44, is charged with leaking to Francis confidential documents about an investigation that began in 2010 and tutoring him on how to avoid giving incriminating statements.

Francis was known for living large in a palatial estate in Singapore and throwing lavish parties. Even before his arrest, he was known by the nickname, Fat Leonard.

“He’s a larger-than-life individual,” retired Navy Capt. Kevin Eyer told CNN. “He’s charming. He’s social. Whereas I might be at this party and drinking a Budweiser, Leonard is having Dom Perignon.”

When a Navy ship pulled into port, Leonard would be there, dressed in designer shirts, wearing a gold watch and stepping out of his bullet-proof Hummer.

“He glad-handed ship captains and fleet commanders and earned a reputation for bestowing them with boxes of Cuban cigars or invitations to the sort of lavish parties that made Western Pacific deployments memorable,” the Military Times reported.

“Flanked by four or five guards in black suits,” the newspaper reported, “he had the air of a visiting dignitary -- and came bearing gifts.”

The Navy has strict rules prohibiting officers from receiving gifts worth more than $20. Even officers not directly involved in the bribery scandal could find their careers damaged if they violated those rules -- for instance by accepting discounts on stays at swank hotels or tee times at golf courses, the kinds of largesse that Francis allegedly lavished.

Two Navy admirals have been put on leave during the investigation. More officers and civilian employees are expected to be swept up in the scandal, the Navy said.

Francis and Wisidagama, 40, also a Malaysian, are charged with being at the center of a scheme to bribe Navy officers into disclosing confidential information about the movement of Navy ships.

The firm would then submit bills that were padded or fraught with services that were never rendered, prosecutors said. Among the items: food, water, trash removal, security, tugboats, fenders, port and warehouse fees, fuel, transportation and more.

Ships were steered toward ports where Francis' firm had an office, according to the indictment. The cost to the Navy and American taxpayers ran into the tens of millions of dollars, prosecutors said.

The Navy has moved to cut ties with Francis’ firm, canceling contracts worth more than $203 million.

Emails between the five co-defendants figure to play a big part in the prosecution.

According to the indictment, Francis emailed Misiewicz in December 2011 about the movement of the 7th Fleet command ship Blue Ridge: “Bro, Slide a Bali visit in after Jakarta and Dill Timor after Bali.” Misiewicz allegedly fulfilled Francis’ request.

When Misiewicz showed some reluctance about the scheme in 2012, according to the indictment, Francis emailed him: “Don’t chicken out bro we need u with us on the front lines.”

Francis allegedly then arranged for Misiewicz to receive five tickets to a Lady Gaga concert in Thailand.

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Twitter: @LATsandiego

tony.perry@latimes.com

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