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US Navy Bribery Scandal Expected To Widen

Nov. 16, 2013 - 09:22AM   |  
By CHRISTOPHER P. CAVAS   |   Comments
US Navy Rear Adm. Bruce F. Loveless, left, and Vice Adm. Ted Branch
US Navy Rear Adm. Bruce F. Loveless, left, and Vice Adm. Ted Branch (Navy via the Associated Press)
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WASHINGTON — Lurid allegations about the activities of Leonard Glenn Francis are coming out almost daily, and at least five US Navy officers have been charged or are being investigated for potentially illegal activities.

Francis is in custody in San Diego, and a sector of his company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA), is being investigated for and charged with questionable billing practices, as well as numerous instances of alleged bribery. In addition to the charges against the three Navy officials, three more officers — including two admirals — are under investigation.

The investigations are by no means over, and it’s widely expected inside the Navy that more individuals will be implicated. How far it could all go, however, is anyone’s guess at this point.

“We have a ways to go here,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Navy’s top spokesman. “It’s impossible to predict when it’s going to end and what it’s going to look like.”

The scandal so far touches only the US Navy. Nearly three dozen other navies are listed by GDMA as customers, although there is no indication those services are investigating the well-known ship husbanding company.

US Navy Cmdrs. Mike Misiewicz and Jose Luis Sanchez and Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) agent John Beliveau are accused of colluding with Francis and could face prison time. Misiewicz, Beliveau and Francis have pleaded not guilty, and Sanchez has yet to plead. The Navy fired Capt. Daniel Dusek, commanding officer of the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, one month ago. He has not been charged, but sources say he has been linked to Francis.

On Nov. 8, in a highly unusual move, the Navy suspended the three-star head of naval intelligence, Vice Adm. Ted Branch, and a one-star deputy, Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, for their alleged connections to Francis; they have not been charged. Many are puzzled about this latest move, noting that Branch, featured prominently in the Emmy-award winning TV documentary “Carrier” when he was commanding officer of the carrier Nimitz, is known for his no-nonsense style.

The allegations, which remain unclear, stem from conduct prior to their assignments and before they made admiral, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Navy’s top spokesman, who added the two flag officers are retaining their rank and have been placed on temporary leave.

By mid-November, the Navy had canceled all contracts with GDMA, worth altogether just over $200 million.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert declined to discuss the investigation but did provide this comment:

“I’m always concerned about allegations of misconduct or criminal behavior in our Navy. That includes those allegations in this ongoing investigation,” he said. “Because it is ongoing, I want to protect and support the integrity of the investigative process, so I don’t have anything further. We have to let the investigation unfold.”

When asked about additional officer fallout, Greenert said, “I do not know the details of the investigation. I have nothing more for you at this time. If there is wrongdoing, I expect people to be held accountable.”

Francis’ lawyer, David Black of Holland and Knight, issued a “no comment,” and Valeriane Toon, head of Glenn Global Corporate Communications, referred all questions to Black.

Growing Business

The US has been doing naval business with GDMA since 1997. Back then, it was one of a number of ship husbanding agents operating in Singapore and elsewhere.

“The husbanding agents are to support ships in a variety of areas. They’re part of the fabric of the maritime environment,” said a retired senior US Navy officer with Pacific experience. “There’s no way a Navy or commercial shipping concern could have its own people in every port wherever it goes.”

The retired officer had dealt with Francis in years past. “Sometimes they’d win a contract, sometimes they wouldn’t,” he said. “We didn’t have an exclusive arrangement with them.”

But in recent years, the company has grown dramatically, establishing itself as the firm to deal with whenever a ship made a port call. On its web site, GDMA lists 77 US Navy ships it has serviced just since April 2012.

And no wonder. Its list of services is impressive: GDMA will get a berthing spot for a ship, handle pilots and tugs, set up immigration and customs clearances and provide security. Currency exchange, food supplies, freight-forwarding services, fuel needs, laundry, power generators, stevedores, line handlers, sewage collection, cell phones, Internet and satellite connections, buoys, forklifts — all could be provided by GDMA. Having an event or reception? GDMA will arrange for a location, tents, sales concessions, catering.

And the company has grown throughout the region. From offices in Japan and South Korea, to Australia and Indonesia, to Hong Kong and the Philippines and Malaysia and Thailand, GDMA can fan out to provide ship support services to dozens of ports.

Virtually every navy visiting the region has contracted with the company. GDMA lists 33 navies — in addition to the US — as current or recent customers, including the UK, China, Australia, France, Pakistan, Italy, Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia and Spain.

Glenn Marine’s operations center in Singapore is reputed to be state-of-the-art, with an up-to-date regional operational picture that rivals that of many navies, allowing the company to see where potential customers are at all times.

Francis is widely known for cultivating ties with senior naval officers throughout the region, and a number of former and retired officers, including retired heads of navies, have a contractual relation­ship with GDMA. “This gives him enormous power and influence in the region,” said another retired US officer.

Francis is alleged to have bribed Misiewicz with, among other things, trips and hotel rooms. Francis bought Misiewicz and three of his children airplane tickets on a two-week vacation to Cambodia and Malaysia, according to federal charging documents. In return, Misiewicz — a former destroyer CO who served as the deputy operations officer at the Yokosuka-based 7th Fleet — allegedly sent Francis classified port visit schedules and lobbied for Francis’ choices. Foremost among them was allegedly sending a carrier to Kota Kinabalu, a feat that Francis, with Misiewicz’s help, achieved with Stennis in 2012.

The quid pro quo appears even more blatant with Sanchez, another 7th Fleet staffer who prosecutors allege sent ship schedules to Francis in return for $100,000 cash and prostitutes. Francis allegedly purchased hotel rooms and prostitutes for Sanchez and some friends on a 2009 trip to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. After Francis emailed some of the prostitute’s photos at Sanchez’s request, Sanchez replied “Yummy ... daddy like,” according to the charging documents.

Attorneys for Misiewicz and Sanchez, who face up to five years in prison if convicted, previously declined to comment on the case.

Beliveau, an NCIS supervisory special agent who was based in Singapore a few years ago, is accused of feeding Francis tips on the investigation’s progress in return for trips and prostitutes.

The number of current and former US Navy officers who have met or dealt with Francis is extensive. “Plenty of flags [senior officers] have met this guy,” one officer said.

It’s also clear that the US investigation is going back a number of years to look for improper activities. Officers who today have risen to senior or significant command could find themselves being held accountable for actions committed some time back.

Some sources observed that behavior considered unethical or illegal in the US can be a normal way of doing business in Asia. Lavish gifts, the provision of women as escorts or prostitutes and personal favors can be considered standard business practices in certain regions.

But that’s no excuse, the retired senior officer said.

“There can be no question that anyone involved in contracting or related to contracting, no way that taking any kind of a bribe or kickback is not wrong. That’s one of the most basic ethical principles people have.

“We all understand that in certain parts of the world this may be a practice that takes place in the private sector,” he said. “But there is no question that Navy people understand what standards are.”

Navy leadership is still grappling with the fallout from the GDMA investigation, both in terms of how to proceed with the investigations and what’s to be done.

“We want to do this right,” Kirby said. “Some of these cases will go the criminal federal prosecution route. Some will be handed over to the Navy and the Navy will deal with these as violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice or as ethical violations.”

No specific directives have yet been issued by the service’s top leaders, including Navy Secretary Ray Mabus or Greenert.

“But we know the secretary intends to take a look, a deeper look in the very near future,” Kirby said. “He’s said he intends to take a look at the husbanding world more closely, and specifically at husbanding agents around the world.”

Already, there are calls in Congress for review and action. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., a crusader for sexual harassment issues, decried the situation Nov. 14.

“Classified information in exchange for prostitutes and in one case $100,000 in cash?” Speier told USA Today. “That suggests that to the core the institution needs to be scrubbed clean with peroxide or something. It needs a good cleaning. It is an absolute frat house.”

“While the list of implicated individuals is going to grow, I don’t think anyone thinks at this point that it’s going to be an epidemic, that anyone who ever served in the Pacific will be suspect,” Kirby said.

“But,” he added, “this is something that’s going to be with us for quite some time.”

Wendell Minnick, Sam Fellman and Mark D. Faram contributed to this report.

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