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'Fat Leonard', Lady Gaga and the U.S. Navy: New details in bribery case

By The CNN Wire Staff
updated 2:46 PM EST, Mon November 11, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Three Navy officers charged with taking bribes from Malaysian businessman
  • Two high-ranking Navy intelligence officers have been suspended in wake of scandal
  • Former Navy captain who crossed paths with businessman says he thinks officers were 'seduced'
  • Government: Officer developed friendship with businessman, called each other 'Big Bro' and 'Little Bro'

Washington (CNN) -- A former Navy officer who has crossed paths with a Malaysian businessman at the center of the U.S. Navy bribery scandal says he can understand how those implicated were seduced by Leonard "Fat Leonard" Francis.

"He's a larger-than-life individual. He's charming. He's very social," said retired Navy Capt. Kevin Eyer, who was commanding officer of a ship that frequented the same ports where Francis operated and attended some of his parties. "Whereas I might be at this party and drinking a Budweiser, Leonard is having Dom Perignon."

Francis, whose nickname around the Navy comes from his 400-pound heft, operates Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd., which provides services to Navy ships such as fuel and tugboats to nudge ships into port.

Three Navy officials have been arrested and are accused of accepting cash, hookers and all-expense paid trips in exchange for steering ships to ports where Francis' company operates.

Third Navy official arrested in bribery case

Two admirals in charge of Navy intelligence -- Vice Adm. Ted Branch and Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless -- have had their access to classified material suspended.

Neither Branch nor Loveless has been charged but CNN is told that allegations have been made about their "personal conduct."

Cmdr. Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz and Naval Criminal Investigative Service Supervisory Special Agent John Bertrand Beliveau II were arrested in probes involving Francis' company in September. Cmdr. Jose Luis Sanchez, 41, was arrested last week in Florida.

Francis, Sanchez, Misiewicz and Beliveau are charged with conspiring to commit bribery and could face up to five years in prison if convicted. All have pleaded not guilty.

Intelligence chiefs suspended

Neither Branch nor Loveless, who are on temporary leave, has been charged with any crime or violation and both retain their ranks and security clearances, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, chief of Navy information.

They are on temporary leave. Their suspension was deemed prudent given the sensitive nature of the admirals' current duties and to protect the integrity of the investigative process, Kirby said.

The allegations against Branch and Loveless involve conduct before their current assignments and flag officer ranks, Kirby said.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service initiated the investigation in 2010.

Federal prosecutors allege Sanchez, as deputy logistics officer in the U.S. 7th Fleet and later as the Fleet Logistics Command's operations director, directed Navy business and sensitive information to Francis' company. In return, Francis allegedly gave Sanchez more than $100,000, travel expenses and prostitutes during a period covering January 2009 to April 2013.

Court documents say Sanchez allegedly asked Francis for pictures of prostitutes for "motivation." A few days later, Sanchez sent a Facebook message to Francis saying, "Yummy ... Daddy like."

Prosecutors say Misiewicz, 46, as deputy operations officer of the U.S. 7th Fleet, helped schedule visits of U.S. Navy ships to ports where Francis' company worked and Francis allegedly overbilled the government for its work.

In return, Francis provided Misiewicz with paid travel, luxury hotel stays, tickets to "The Lion King" in Tokyo and a Lady Gaga concert in Thailand and prostitutes, the U.S. attorney's office said.

'We got him!!'

The government says Francis and Misiewicz became close friends over private e-mail, calling each other "Big Bro" and "Little Bro." Prosecutors say that after Misiewicz received some gifts, a Francis associate declared, "We got him!!"

A separate complaint alleges Beliveau, 44, provided Francis with information about an NCIS fraud investigation into his company's dealings with the Navy.

"In exchange, Francis provided Beliveau with, among other things, paid travel, luxury hotel stays and prostitution services," the U.S. attorney's office said.

No evidence was found that Beliveau paid for his hotel or travel, or that he reimbursed Francis for the trip. Francis also arranged for a female escort to entertain Beliveau while there, according to the complaint.

In return, Francis allegedly saved 125 NCIS investigative reports to his government computer. The affidavit states the reports were in connection with the investigation into Francis' company.

By all accounts, Francis lived life large -- from fast cars to women to travel.

"I think it would be fair to say that they were seduced by Mr. Francis," Eyer said. "You can kind of see how if you fell into the mode of socializing with him, it would be possible to get swept up in that. That's why so many military officers are little bit wary about him."

CNN's Barbara Starr and Kyung Lah contributed to this report

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