SAN DIEGO — Eager to strengthen its ties with the U.S., the government of Thailand agreed not to charge for use of its docks and wharves when three Navy ships arrived in 2010 for a multi-nation exercise at sea.
So when a bill arrived weeks later at the Navy regional headquarters for $110,000, the Navy began asking questions.
That led to an expansive, international investigation into whether the Navy and U.S. taxpayers were getting ripped off at ports throughout the Asia-Pacific region. In September, a federal grand jury in San Diego indicted three people on charges of running a multimillion-dollar fraud and bribery scheme.
The loss from Thailand alone in 2010 is thought to be more than $10 million, federal prosecutors said, with the investigation continuing.
Indicted were a rising Navy officer, a high-ranking Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent, and the flamboyant owner of a multinational, Singapore-based company that has provided "ship husbanding'' services for U.S. vessels for 25 years at numerous ports. Each has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy.
According to the indictments, the business owner bribed the Navy officer and NCIS agent with first-class air travel to exotic locations, five-star hotel accommodations, the use of a Mercedes-Benz, cash, prostitutes and tickets to see Lady Gaga in Thailand and "The Lion King" in Tokyo.
The two Americans helped the business owner submit bills that were padded or altogether fraudulent for services never rendered, according to the indictment. They also used their influence to make sure Navy ships such as the aircraft carriers John C. Stennis and George Washington were routed to ports where the marine services company was influential, prosecutors say.
Early in the investigation, NCIS agent John Bertrand Beliveau II snooped in confidential files, coached business owner Leonard Francis on how to be deceptive, and may have destroyed some files and leaked others, according to prosecutors.
Emails included in the indictment show that on a trip to Bangkok in 2011, Beliveau was provided with a prostitute.
"Joyce your kinda Babe?" Francis said in an email with a picture of the woman attached.
"Nice. You bet," Beliveau replied. "Hopefully I'm her kinda guy, hehe."
Other emails cited by court documents show the two discussing how to recruit Navy Cmdr. Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz into the scheme, noting that the married officer "liked Japanese women but they were costly."
At the time, Misiewicz was deputy operations officer for the Japan-based 7th Fleet, with influence over where ships were sent for port calls. When he was indicted, he was at the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs, Colo., and had been selected for promotion to captain.
The three defendants are set to appear in federal court in San Diego on Friday for a trial-setting conference.
The emails show the NCIS agent scolding Francis, a Malaysian national, for being sloppy by resending the same fraudulent documents with the same phony names ("Ali Baba") for multiple charges. He also was angry when Francis appeared to be going cheap, not providing large enough bribes.
"You give whores more money than me," Beliveau wrote in a 2012 email.
At other times, Francis appeared keen on keeping Beliveau happy, sending him on a three-week, five-country trip and on another occasion making sure he had a list of prostitutes by age, height and bra size, according to the indictment.
Beliveau, 44, was a supervisory special agent with the NCIS, with expertise in covert communications, "surreptitious" movement of money and "other means of avoiding detection," as well as access to secret files, according to the indictment.
When he was arrested, he was the boss of eight NCIS agents at Quantico, Va.
Francis, 58, is the owner of Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd., with operations across Asia. He lives in the richest neighborhood in Singapore and is known for a lavish lifestyle. His company provides services needed by ships in port, such as tugboats, security, food, fuel, water, and trash and waste removal.
During a five-day visit by the carrier Abraham Lincoln to the port at Laem Chabang, Thailand, the Navy was billed $884,000 for husbanding services. The Navy determined that more than $500,000 of that was an overbilling, according to the indictments.
Francis was arrested in San Diego, where he had been lured by federal investigators for what he thought was a routine business meeting. Beliveau was arrested in Virginia and Misiewicz in Colorado.
Misiewicz, 46, a native of Cambodia, is a naturalized U.S. citizen and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. As a surface warfare officer, he was chosen to command the guided-missile destroyer Mustin.
A story by the Navy news service in 2010, as the Mustin prepared to visit Cambodia, said Misiewicz "believes the Navy has given him an incredible amount of opportunities that he would never experienced had he remained in Cambodia."
Misiewicz is quoted as saying he feels "privileged and blessed'' to return to Cambodia "with the ability to promote American goodwill."Copyright © 2015, CT Now