Manager of Asian firm pleads guilty in Navy case
By Julie Watson, AP
March 20, 2014, 12:05 am TWN
SAN DIEGO -- A manager of a Singapore-based company accused of bilking the U.S. Navy out of millions of dollars pleaded guilty Tuesday in the case.
Alex Wisidagama entered a guilty plea in federal court on Tuesday to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States with respect to claims.
The former general manager of global government contracts for Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd., or GDMA, admitted to knowing the company that serviced ships in the Pacific submitted fictitious claims that resulted in losses to the U.S. Navy exceeding US$20 million.
Wisidagama is the cousin of Leonard Glenn Francis, the CEO of GDMA who is known in military circles as “Fat Leonard.”
The two were arrested last year in San Diego during a sting operation by military investigators who say Francis offered pricey vacations and prostitute services to Naval officers in exchange for information and advice so GDMA could overbill the Navy. Francis has pleaded not guilty to the charges and remains in custody in San Diego.
Wisidagama faces up to 10 years in prison and an order of mandatory restitution when he is sentenced June 13.
His lawyer, Knut Johnson, said after the hearing Tuesday that the plea deal was in Wisidagama's best interest by capping off the prison time, which could have turned into decades if he had been indicted on all the charges in the case. Johnson said he may ask for a prison transfer so Wisidagama, who has a child, can be closer to his family in Singapore.
Johnson declined to say whether his client had agreed to cooperate with the prosecution or whether he may decide to testify against his cousin, saying only: “I would think that would be an emotional issue and not an easy one to make.”
The case involves allegations Navy officials accepted the vacations and prostitute services in exchange for providing information and advice to GDMA, including changing ship routes to ports where the company could more easily pull off its scheme.
At least six naval officers have been implicated in the scheme. Two commanders were arrested and charged. Two Navy admirals have lost their security clearances, and two other Navy officials have been relieved of their duties. But they have not been charged.
Navy Cmdr. Jose Luis Sanchez and Cmdr. Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz have entered not-guilty pleas.
Wisidagama knew the company submitted hundreds of false bids, allegedly from competitors for items ranging from fuel to trash collection to the U.S. Navy, according to the complaint.
He was also aware that the company inflated fuel prices and submitted invoices for tariffs from non-existent port authorities so GDMA could overbill the Navy, the complaint says.
Wisidagama is the second defendant to enter a guilty plea.
An agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, John Beliveau II, pleaded guilty in the case to bribery charges last year.
Beliveau acknowledged keeping Francis up to speed of the years-long fraud investigation that NCIS agents were conducting into GDMA.
In exchange, Francis paid for plane tickets, hotels and prostitutes for Beliveau, 44, according to the plea agreement.
GMDA has been offering services to the Navy for more than two decades in Asia.