After escaping Cambodia’s killing fields as a child, Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz lived an improbably charmed life. He was adopted by an American mother, graduated from the Naval Academy and became a decorated officer who triumphantly returned to his native country as the skipper of a U.S. warship.
On Friday, however, his fairy-tale career came to a shattering and disgraceful end. A federal judge in San Diego sentenced him to six-and-a-half years in prison for his role in an epic bribery scandal that has rocked the Navy.
Misiewicz has pleaded guilty to leaking a long list of military secrets in 2011 and 2012 to Glenn Defense Marine Asia, a Singapore-based company that held more than $200 million worth of contracts to resupply Navy ships. During that period, Misiewicz served as deputy director of operations for the Navy’s 7th Fleet, an influential job overseeing ship movements throughout Asia.
In exchange the owner of the firm, Leonard Glenn Francis, a legendary figure in Navy circles known as “Fat Leonard,” seduced Misiewicz with one illicit temptation after another.
Both men have admitted that Francis supplied the Navy commander with prostitutes, cash, luxury hotel stays, international airfare for him and his family, even tickets to a Lady Gaga concert in Thailand and a musical performance of “The Lion King” in Japan.
Francis has pleaded guilty to bribing “scores” of other Navy officials with cash and sex so he could defraud the Navy of more than $35 million. Five have been convicted, and charges have been filed against two others. Many more remain under investigation. The prison sentence for Misiewicz is the longest imposed so far.
According to court records, Francis’s relationship with Misiewicz was especially close, even if they made for an odd pair.
They called each other Big Bro and Little Bro, which summed things up in more ways than one. Francis, the elder by a few years, is a giant of a man, standing over 6 feet tall and weighing 350 pounds. Misiewicz looks about half his size.
Both were married, middle-aged men with young children at home. But they loved to go clubbing together at port cities throughout Asia, staying out until dawn as they conspired how to avoid detection for their carousing and their crimes.
One night, Misiewicz failed to return to his ship, the USS Blue Ridge, before curfew. Francis saved him from getting in trouble by giving him athletic gear so that the Navy officer could pretend he had left the ship for an early-morning workout, according to a sentencing document filed by prosecutors.
On another port visit to Manila in February 2011, Francis and his company treated Misiewicz to a night on the town, paying for him to stay at a luxury hotel and providing him with prostitutes. A photograph that prosecutors introduced as a court exhibit shows the Navy officer shirtless and flat on his back in a boxing ring, surrounded by scantily clad women.
“By all accounts, this was quite a party in Manila,” prosecutors dryly noted in a court filing.
The Manila episode came just two months after Misiewicz made a celebratory return to Cambodia as the commander of a Navy destroyer, the USS Mustin.
It was the first time that Misiewicz had been to Cambodia since he was rescued as a 6-year-old in 1973, just before Cambodia plunged into a bloody communist revolution that resulted in the deaths of his father and 18 other relatives at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. As the Mustin docked at Sihanoukville for a port visit, long-lost relatives boarded the ship for a tearful reunion.
Within the Navy, Misiewicz was seen as an officer of exceptional promise with a limitless future. He received glowing evaluations from his commanders, several of whom recommended that he be placed on the fast track to become an admiral.
“Through his sustained superior performance Michael repeatedly and consistently demonstrated that he was among the very best officers in the fleet,” Adm. Scott Swift, the commander of Navy forces in the Pacific, wrote in a March 1 letter to U.S. District Court Judge Janis L. Sammartino, who will impose the sentence on Misiewicz. “I can only say I was shocked when I learned he had been arrested, all the more so when I learned of the charges he faced.”
In his own letter seeking mercy from the judge, Misieiwicz said he was “humbled, ashamed, and tormented by the pain I have caused my loved ones, especially my children, family, friends, and shipmates.”
He added that “there is no doubt I was wrong and violated the law,” but he also sought to shift blame to Francis. “He had me convinced he was my true friend and a strategic partner for our nation,” Misieiwicz wrote. “I, like most other Americans, have leaned since my arrest, Leonard was also a crook and a thief.”
Misiewicz and his attorneys downplayed the sensitivity of the classified material that he fed Francis and have said he was unaware that Glenn Defense Marine Asia was defrauding the Navy. They asked the judge to impose a prison sentence of about three-and-a-half years.
Prosecutors, however, were less forgiving. In a court filing, they argued that Misiewicz placed national security at risk by giving secrets to a foreigner and noted that the material included especially sensitive information about submarine movements and ballistic-missile defense plans in Asia. In the end, the judge agreed with their recommendation for a 78-month sentence.
Craig Whitlock covers the Pentagon and national security. He has reported for The Washington Post since 1998.