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US Navy admirals under investigation in widening bribery scandal

Published time: November 09, 2013 04:26
Edited time: November 11, 2013 10:23
Vice Adm. Ted Branch, director of naval intelligence (AFP Photo)

Vice Adm. Ted Branch, director of naval intelligence (AFP Photo)

Two Navy admirals have been placed on temporary leave after their access to classified materials was suspended. This comes as part of a growing investigation into allegations that Naval officers illegally accepted bribes from a military contractor.

Vice Adm. Ted Branch, director of naval intelligence, and Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, director of intelligence operations, were reported on Friday to be part of an ongoing probe after they were each accused of having illegal and improper relations with Leonard Francis, CEO of Glenn Defense Marine. 

The suspension was deemed prudent given the sensitive nature of their current duties and to protect and support the integrity of the investigative process,” a Navy statement announced. 

The allegations against Admirals Branch and Loveless involve inappropriate conduct prior to their current assignments and flag office rank. There is no indication, nor to the allegations suggest, that in either case there was any breach of classified information.” 

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) began its investigation in 2010. While a Navy spokesman maintained neither has been charged with a crime or service violation, the US attorney’s office in San Diego, California has charged Loveless and Branch with passing along classified information, according to the Washington Post. 

Branch and Loveless join Commanders Jose Luiz Sanchez, Michael Vannak Khem Misiewiz, and NCIS Supervisory Special Agent John Beliveau as subjects of the NCIS investigation into corruption and bribery at the Navy’s Singapore outpost. 

Each of the three senior officials have been arrested because of their alleged dealings with the man known as “Fat Leonard.” Prosecutors say the Malaysian businessman used his personal connections to bribe Navy officers with prostitutes, luxury travel accommodations, Lady Gaga concert tickets, and $100,000, among others. 

Leonard is accused of using these favors to persuade officers into providing insight on upcoming law enforcement probes and contract reviews. He is especially known for the lavish Christmas parties he has thrown every year, decorating his 70,000 Singapore home with decorations so outlandish that spectators would visit. 

He’s a larger-than-life figure,” retired Rear Adm. Terry McKnight told Fox News. “You talk to any captain on any ship that has sailed in the Pacific and they will know exactly who he is.” 

Francis and Glenn Defense Marine are also accused of defrauding the Navy out of more than $10 million by overcharging for fuel, tugboats, docking, sewage disposal, and many other services. 

It’s pretty big when you have one person who can dictate where ships are going to go and being influenced by a contractor,” McKnight said. “A lot of people are saying how could this happen?” 

Sanchez and Misiewicz are believed to have begun notifying Glenn Defense Marine of Navy ship activity in 2009 and continuing to do so until April of this year. Beliveau is accused of ferrying information to Francis even after the Navy investigation started and may have given “Fat Leonard” advice on how to answer questions. 

Misiewicz was already well-known before he was apprehended by law enforcement. As a child the future Navy Cmdr. was rescued from a violent region of Cambodia and given a new life by an American woman. His emotional return to the region in 2010 was the subject of international media coverage. 

Yet prosecutors say Francis was already reengaged in a heated recruitment effort with Misiewicz in his sights. Misiewicz allegedly accepted tickets to a theater production of “The Lion King” in Tokyo and was soon referring to Francis as “Big Brother” in personal emails. 

The charged defendants could be sentenced to five years in prison if found guilty of conspiracy to commit bribery. Francis is being held without bail. 

Exactly how Loveless and Branch may have known Francis is not clear, but both officers had stints in the Pacific during their careers. Branch previously served as assistant to the commander of the Pacific fleet before he was promoted to vice admiral in February. Loveless held a command position at the Joint Intelligence Operations Center at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii from 2009 to 2012.

The Washington Post previously reported that the Navy terminated $200 million in contracts with the company in September of this year.