SAN DIEGO — A third high-ranking Navy officer has been suspended from his duties in connection with an investigation into a multimillion-dollar bribery case involving Navy ships in Asia-Pacific ports.
Capt. David Haas has been suspended as deputy commander of Coastal Riverine Group 1, based in San Diego, the Navy announced Thursday. The unit provides security and combat operations in rivers, harbors and coastal waterways.
Haas will retain his rank and be assigned to a staff job during the investigation into unspecified allegations, the Navy said. No information about the allegations was revealed.
Haas, 45, a Naval Academy graduate, has had a series of significant posts, including as commander of the guided-missile frigate Thach and serving on the staff of the Japan-based 7th Fleet.
Two Washington-based Navy admirals have already been put on leave during the investigation.The captain of the Japan-based amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard has been relieved of command but it is unclear whether the bribery investigation is the only reason.
More officers and civilian employees are expected to be swept up in the scandal, the Navy said.
Five persons have been charged in San Diego federal court: two Navy commanders, a senior Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent and two Malaysian business executives with the Singapore-based firm Glenn Defense Marine Asia, which provides "ship husbanding" services at ports throughout the region.
The firm's owner, Leonard Glenn Francis, and one of his top executives, Alex Wisidagama, are charged with being at the center of a scheme to bribe Navy officers into disclosing confidential information about the movement of Navy ships and then changing the ship's port calls to aid Francis.
Ships were steered toward ports where Francis' firm had an office, according to the indictment. Francis' firm then submitted bills that were padded or fraught with services that were never rendered, according to the indictments.
The cost to the Navy and American taxpayers ran into the tens of millions of dollars, prosecutors said.
Navy Cmdrs. Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz, 46, and Jose Luis Sanchez, 41, are charged with taking money, first-class travel accommodations, and prostitutes in exchange for leaking information to Francis.
Both were on the staff of the Japan-based 7th Fleet and privy to inside information. They are not charged with knowing that the bills were allegedly fraudulent.
NCIS Agent John Bertrand Beliveau II, 44, is charged with leaking confidential documents to Francis about an investigation involving him that began in 2010 and then tutoring him on how to avoid giving incriminating statements.
Francis, 49, known as Fat Leonard for his girth, has a reputation as a larger-than-life figure who lived an extravagant lifestyle in a posh section of Singapore and held lavish parties for visiting Navy officers.
“He glad-handed ship captains and fleet commanders and earned a reputation for bestowing them with boxes of Cuban cigars or invitations to the sort of lavish parties that made Western Pacific deployments memorable,” the Military Times reported.
Francis' efforts to ingratiate himself began as soon as ships arrived in port.
“Flanked by four or five guards in black suits,” the newspaper reported, “he had the air of a visiting dignitary — and came bearing gifts.”
The Navy has strict rules prohibiting officers from receiving gifts worth more than $20.
Even officers not directly involved in the bribery scandal could have their careers damaged or even destroyed if they are found to have violated those rules — for instance by accepting discounts on swank hotel reservations or tee times at golf courses, the kinds of largess that Francis allegedly lavished.
Francis and Wisidagama, 40, have been held in federal prison in San Diego with prosecutors branding them as flight risks. Francis's attorney is seeking to have his client released on bail.
The Navy has moved to cut ties with Glenn Defense Marine Asia, canceling contracts worth more than $203 million. The firm has provided items such as food, water, fuel, trash removal, tugboats, fenders and other things for Navy ships for more than two decades.