A US crew member stands guard onboard the USS Spruance, a guided-missile destroyer, docked on Sembawang wharves in Singapore on January 22, 2014. Photo: AFP/File
A former manager for a defense contractor who admitted overbilling the U.S. Navy more than $20 million became the second person to plead guilty as the government continues probing alleged bribery involving the Singapore-based company and naval officers.
Alex Wisidagama, 40, entered his plea yesterday in federal court in San Diego. He is a cousin of Leonard Glenn Francis, the chief executive officer of Glenn Defense Marine (Asia) who’s charged with providing gifts and prostitutes to two U.S. naval commanders as part of the scheme. The company has contracted with the U.S. Navy for 25 years, providing hundreds of millions of dollars in goods and services for American ships in at least a dozen countries in Asia, according to court filings.
Francis, a Malaysian citizen, and Wisidagama were arrested in September in San Diego. Francis, nicknamed “Fat Leonard,” is accused of paying the two commanders to steer U.S. Navy vessels to ports that were most lucrative for his company. The two commanders, who were also charged, and Francis have all pleaded not guilty.
“Wisidagama and others were creative, deceitful and audacious in their efforts to manipulate the Navy and steal millions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers,” U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said in a statement. “This plea is an important development in our ongoing case, and we will continue to pursue all avenues.”
One of three regional contracts Glenn Defense Marine was awarded in 2011 was worth as much as $125 million over five years to provide tugboats, fuel, trash removal and other services for the Navy in Southeast Asia. Among the government’s allegations is that Francis paid for tickets to the “Lion King” Broadway production in Tokyo and to a Lady Gaga concert for one of the Navy commanders in return for confidential information on ship routes.
Wisidagama, who was the general manager of global contracts at Glenn Defense Marine, was accused of providing bogus invoices and phony competitive bids to inflate the costs for the services the company provided. In one example cited by prosecutors, when the USS Mustin visited Thailand in November 2011, Wisidagama presented the Navy with a $2.3 million invoice for fuel, an alleged overcharge of $1.3 million.
He faces as long as 10 years in prison when he is sentenced June 13 by U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino.
A U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent who pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to commit bribery said he leaked the names of cooperating witnesses and plans for future investigative steps to Francis in return for cash and prostitutes. He’s also scheduled for sentencing on June 13.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Huie said after today’s hearing that more indictments are possible.
Wisidagama’s lawyer, Knut Johnson, said his client agreed to plead guilty to put the matter behind him.
Huie and Johnson both declined to say whether Wisidagama is cooperating with the government.
The case is U.S. v. Wisidagama, 13-4043, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California (San Diego).