Unusual accusations are unfolding in a federal court case in San Diego -accusations that involve a gregarious Malaysian businessman, Leonard Francis (aka Fat Leonard), military secrets, prostitutes and Lady Gaga tickets. Prosecutors in court papers say Francis, who is well known among U.S. Navy commanders in the Pacific for having serviced warships for 25 years, obtained military secrets by bribing a U.S. commander with prostitutes and Lady Gaga tickets. The scandal is reverberating throughout the Navy as it signals serious national security breaches and corruption. High-level meetings at the Pentagon suggest that even more people, including those of higher ranks, could be investigated. A hearing scheduled for Nov. 8 could set a trial date.
Court documents revealed that Navy commander Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz passed on confidential information on ship routes to Francis’ Singapore-based company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd.
The prosecution says Misiewicz and Francis moved Navy vessels like chess pieces, diverting aircraft carriers, destroyers and other ships to Asian ports with lax oversight where Francis could inflate costs. What’s more, the firm allegedly overcharged the Navy millions for fuel, food and other services it provided. It also invented tariffs by using phony port authorities, according to prosecutors.
Retired Rear Adm. Terry McKnight said, “It’s pretty big when you have one person who can dictate where ships are going to go and being influenced by a contractor. A lot of people are saying how could this happen?”
Those who have been arrested in connection with the scandal include Misiewicz, Francis, his company’s general manager of global government contracts, Alex Wisidagama and a senior Navy investigator, John Beliveau II. Prosecutors say Beliveau kept Francis informed of the probe and advised him on how to respond in exchange for luxury trips and prostitution services. All have pleaded not guilty and defense attorneys have declined comment.
Court documents mention other unnamed Navy Personnel who received gifts from Francis and Senior Navy officials said they believe more people will be named in connection with the scheme, but it’s too early to know how many or high this goes.
McKnight said Francis or “Fat Leonard” is legendary in military circles in that part of the world, known for his extravagance: “He’s a larger-than-life figure. You talk to any captain on any ship that has sailed in the Pacific and they will know exactly who he is.”
Navy spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby said Navy Criminal Investigative Service agents initiated their probe in 2010. That was the same year that international media covered Misiewicz’s emotional return as a U.S. Naval commander to his native Cambodia, where he had been rescued as a child from the violence of the Khmer Rouge and adopted by an American woman.
During that time, court documents suggest he was being recruited by Francis. Misiewicz’s family attended a production of the Lion King in Tokyo with a company employee who allegedly connected them with prostitutes. Within months, Misiewicz was providing Francis ship movement schedules for the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group and other ships, according to the criminal complaint.
Shortly thereafter, the manager allegedly wrote to Francis: “We got him!!:),” according to court documents. What’s more, the documents reveal that Misiewicz would refer to Francis as “Big Brother” or “Big Bro” in emails, while Francis would call him “Little Brother” or “Little Bro.”
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said Francis and company scammed the Navy out of $10 million in just one year in Thailand alone.
In December 2011, investigators say the two exchanged emails about the schedule of the USS Blue Ridge and court documents state that Francis wrote Misiewicz: “Bro, Slide a Bali visit in after Jakarta, and Dili Timor after Bali.”
In October 2012, the USS George Washington was scheduled to visit Singapore and instead was redirected by the Navy to Port Klang, Malaysia, one of Francis’ preferred ports. His company subsequently submitted fake contractor bids, according to the complaint.
Court documents also state that Francis offered Misiewicz five tickets to a Lady Gaga concert in Thailand in 2012, writing: “Don’t chicken out bro we need u with us on the front lines.”
The federal government has suspended all contracts with Francis. The defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and could face up to five years if convicted.