Top Navy intelligence officers put on leave in bribery probe

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By M. Alex Johnson, Staff Writer

Two top naval intelligence officers have been placed on leave and stripped of their access to classified materials in a widespread bribery investigation, the Navy said Friday night.

The sanctions against Vice Adm. Ted Branch, the director of naval intelligence, and Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, the director of intelligence operations, are related to "illegal and improper relations" with Leonard Francis, chief executive of Glenn Defense Marine, a Singapore-based defense contractor, the Navy said in a statement.

The admirals are the highest-ranking officers to be implicated so far in the investigation, which began in 2010. Three lower-level officers have been charged with accepting prostitutes, luxury travel and cash from Francis in exchange for classified and internal Navy information. 

On Saturday, the U.S. Navy's chief of information, Rear Adm. John Kirby, told NBC News that more more charges are likely.

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"We believe that there will be additional navy officers and perhaps Navy civilians implicated as this investigation continues," he said.

Francis appeared in federal court Friday in San Diego on allegations that he supplied the lower-level officers — Cmdr. Mark Vannak Khem Misiewicz, 46, Cmdr. Jose Luis Sanchez, 41, and Naval Criminal Investigative Service Supervisory Special Agent John Bertrand Beliveau II, 44 — with plane tickets, access to prostitutes and concert tickets.

In return, they arranged to have ships dock at Asian ports controlled by Francis, who overcharged the Navy for fuel, food and other services, according to criminal complaints filed in San Diego.

All of the men have pleaded not guilty, as has Alex Wisidagama, a Glenn Defense executive. Prosecutors say Wisidagama overbilled the Navy for services in ports throughout Southeast Asia.

The complaints don't mention the two admirals, who haven't been charged, and the Navy's statement went into no further detail about their connection to the investigation.

"There is no indication, nor do the allegations suggest, that in either case there was any breach of classified information," the Navy said.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Pletcher said in court Friday that Beliveau provided Francis with internal NCIS documents about the bribery investigation, NBC San Diego reported.

Prosecutors said Friday they would seek a protective order to shield any of the evidence from the media and the public.