Rear Adm. Bruce F. Loveless, left, and Vice Adm. Ted Branch. (Navy via The Associated Press)
Two flag officers have been added to the growing list of Navy officials allegedly connected to a large-scale bribery scheme in Asia.
The Navy announced late Friday that Vice Adm. Ted “Twig” Branch, director of Naval Intelligence, and Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, director of Intelligence Operations, are under investigation for “inappropriate conduct” stemming from their relationships with Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd. and its CEO Leonard Francis, a larger-than-life character well known in Navy circles and nicknamed “Fat Leonard.”
These are the highest-ranking officials to have been linked in the ongoing investigation. More fallout is expected.
“The allegations against Admirals Branch and Loveless involve inappropriate conduct prior to their current assignments and flag officer rank,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Navy’s chief of information, in an emailed statement. “There is no indication, nor do the allegations suggest, that in either case there was any breach of classified information.”
In light of the investigation, however, the Navy has suspended the flag officers’ access to classified materials.
“The suspension was deemed prudent given the sensitive nature of their current duties and to protect and support the integrity of the investigative process.”
Kirby stressed that neither man has been charged.
“Both men retain their rank and security clearance,” Kirby said. “They are on temporary leave.”
Branch is a 1979 Naval Academy graduate and F/A18 pilot. Past leadership assignments include: executive and commanding officer of Strike Fighter Squadron 15, XO of the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis, CO of the amphibious transport dock Coronado and the carrier Nimitz , and commander of Carrier Strike Group One/Carl Vinson Strike Group. He was featured prominently in the Emmy-winning series “Carrier” while serving as CO of the Nimitz.
Loveless is a 1986 academy grad and as a staff intelligence officer participated in operations Desert Storm, Desert Strike, Southern Watch, Vigilant Sentinel, and Vigilant Warrior in Iraq, and United Shield in Somalia, according to his official bio. Most recently, he commanded U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Operations Center in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, from 2009 to 2012. He received the Joint Meritorious Unit Award for intelligence provided by PACOM JIOC during Operation Tomodachi following the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan.
Attempts to reach the officers through a public affairs officer were not immediately successful.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is continuing its investigation, which began in 2010. Three Navy officials already face charges.
On Wednesday, authorities arrested Cmdr. Jose Luis Sanchez. Sanchez is accused of accepting prostitutes, $100,000 cash, and other bribes from Francis, the Associated Press reported.
Prosecutors say in exchange, Sanchez passed on classified U.S. Navy information to the Malaysian contractor, whose company has serviced Navy ships in the Pacific for 25 years and is accused of overbilling the Pentagon by millions.
Cmdr. Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz — who like Sanchez, is accused of giving Francis’ company confidential information about Navy ship routes.
And a senior Navy investigator, John Beliveau II. Prosecutors allege in a criminal complaint that Beliveau, 44, kept Francis abreast of the bribery probe and advised him on how to respond in exchange for such things as prostitution services.
GDMA overcharged the Navy millions of dollars for fuel, food and other services it provided, and invented tariffs by using phony port authorities, prosecutors say.
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, the criminal complaint alleges.
Francis, 49, was arrested in San Diego in September. A few weeks later, authorities arrested his company’s general manager of global government contracts, Alex Wisidagama, 40.
Misiewicz, Beliveau, Francis and Wisidagama have pleaded not guilty. Their defense attorneys have declined to comment.
A source told Navy Times in October that Capt. Daniel Dusek, who was fired Oct. 2 from command of the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, was also under investigation for an alleged relationship with GDMA. He has not been charged.■
The Associated Press contributed to this report.