US Navy commander pleads guilty in massive bribery case

AP News
|
Posted: Jan 06, 2015 8:06 PM
US Navy commander pleads guilty in massive bribery case

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A U.S. Navy commander pleaded guilty Tuesday in a massive bribery scheme involving a longtime military contractor in Asia who allegedly offered luxury travel, prostitutes and other bribes to officers in exchange for confidential information.

Jose Luis Sanchez, 42, is the highest-ranking official to plead guilty in the case, which rocked the Navy when the first charges were filed in 2013. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison when he is sentenced March 27 for bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery.

Sanchez admitted taking bribes valued between $30,000 and $120,000 from 2009 to 2013, including a prostitute, $7,500 to travel from Asia to the United States and five days at Singapore's luxury Shangri-La Hotel, according to a 24-page plea agreement. In exchange, he provided classified Navy ship and submarine schedules and other internal information to Leonard Glenn Francis, chief executive of a Singapore-based company that provided services to vessels at ports.

Sanchez, who lives in San Diego and remains on active duty, was asked to silently read four passages of the plea agreement and say if the wrongdoing described was accurate.

"Yes, sir," he told U.S. Magistrate Judge David Bartick each time. A five-page addendum to the plea agreement was filed under seal.

Francis, known in military circles as "Fat Leonard," and his company Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd., or GDMA, serviced Navy ships for 25 years. Prosecutors say he bought information that allowed his company to overbill the Navy for port services in Asia by at least $20 million since 2009.

Francis was arrested in September 2013 and has pleaded not guilty.

Sanchez, one of four Navy members charged in the case, held key positions in Singapore and Japan before he was reassigned to Tampa, Florida, in 2013. He is the fifth person to plead guilty in the case and the second Navy official after Daniel Layug, a petty officer who admitted providing classified shipping schedules and other internal Navy information to Francis.

Cmdr. Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz, 47, was indicted Tuesday on an additional seven counts of bribery. Misiewicz, also of San Diego, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery.

"Commander Sanchez sold out his command and country for cash bribes, luxury hotel rooms, and the services of prostitutes," Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said. "After today's guilty plea, instead of free stays at the Shangri-La hotel, Sanchez is facing many nights in federal prison."

The judge agreed to let Sanchez remove a GPS monitor while free on bond and allowed him to back the bond with assets of his mother and sister, instead of his own property. He can't leave Southern California except to visit his attorney.

Sanchez's attorney, Vincent Ward, said his client needed his own money to pay legal fees and assured the judge that Sanchez wouldn't betray his family by failing to appear for sentencing. His mother and sister sat in the front row of a tiny courtroom.

"He's closer to his mom and sister than anyone," Ward said.

Sanchez and his attorney declined to speak with reporters as they left the courtroom.

Robert Huie, an assistant U.S. attorney, wouldn't say if Sanchez was cooperating with authorities, but officials said the investigation was ongoing.

"We continue to unearth the full scope of this pernicious fraud and bribery scheme, and we will pursue the evidence, wherever it leads us," said Laura Duffy, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California.