SAN DIEGO — Nicknamed "Fat Leonard," the gregarious Malaysian businessman is well known by U.S. Navy commanders in the Pacific, where his company has serviced warships for 25 years.
But prosecutors in court papers say Leonard Francis worked his connections to obtain military secrets by lining up hookers, Lady Gaga tickets and other bribes for a U.S. commander, in a scandal reverberating across the Navy.
The accusations unfolding in a federal court case in San Diego signal serious national security breaches and corruption, setting off high-level meetings at the Pentagon with the threat that more people, including those of higher ranks, could be swept up as the investigation continues. A hearing Nov. 8 could set a trial date.
Navy commander Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz passed confidential information on ship routes to Francis' Singapore-based company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd., or GDMA, according to the court documents.
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, according to the criminal complaint. The firm overcharged the Navy millions for fuel, food and other services it provided, and invented tariffs by using phony port authorities, the prosecution alleges.
"It's pretty big when you have one person who can dictate where ships are going to go and being influenced by a contractor," said retired Rear Adm. Terry McKnight, who has no direct knowledge of the investigation. "A lot of people are saying how could this happen?"
So far, authorities have arrested Misiewicz; Francis; his company's general manager of global government contracts, Alex Wisidagama; and a senior Navy investigator, John Beliveau II. Beliveau is accused of keeping Francis abreast of the probe and advising him on how to respond in exchange for luxury trips, prostitution services, etc. All have pleaded not guilty. Defense attorneys declined to comment.