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Navy Officer Was 'Golden Asset' in Bribery Scheme

Capt. Daniel Dusek briefs Myanmar naval officers on board the USS Bonhomme Richard in 2012. (Navy/Mark R. Alvarez)
Capt. Daniel Dusek briefs Myanmar naval officers on board the USS Bonhomme Richard in 2012. (Navy/Mark R. Alvarez)

SAN DIEGO -- To the Navy, Capt. Daniel Dusek was considered an exceptional leader and inspirational mentor to the forces of the Seventh Fleet in Asia.

To Navy contractor "Fat Leonard" Francis, the captain was considered a "golden asset."

With high-ranking credentials and a powerful sphere of influence, Dusek was just the kind of official Francis wanted on his payroll of bribes, and for seven months Dusek delivered.

Dusek, 49, the fleet's deputy director of operations, slipped Francis' contracting company classified ship and submarine schedules dozens of times, as well as persuaded Navy brass to reroute ships to ports Francis controlled, in exchange for meals, entertainment, luxury hotel stays and the services of prostitutes.

He was not the first to do so, but he is the highest-ranking Navy officer to be charged in the massive bribery conspiracy involving Francis, one of the biggest scandals to rock the modern Navy.

On Friday in San Diego federal court, US District Judge Janis Sammartino considered his rank a major factor in deciding his sentence. She ultimately decided on three years and 10 months -- two months longer than prosecutors had recommended.

"It's truly unimaginable to this court that someone in your position with the United States Navy would sell out on the basis of what was provided to you," Sammartino said.

She further ordered Dusek to pay a $70,000 fine and $30,000 in restitution.

For his sentencing, Dusek wrote a lengthy apology, saying he was introduced to Francis by a senior Navy official, who described Francis as a "great friend of the Navy." Francis' Singapore-based company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, for decades had provided husbanding services to visiting ships in Southeast Asia, including trash removal, food, water, fuel and security.

Dusek, who was stationed aboard the fleet's flagship Blue Ridge, later developed a friendship with Edmond Aruffo, a retired Navy officer who had gone to work for Francis. It was through that relationship that, Dusek said, he ended up "succumbing to the temptations placed before me."

After Dusek provided Aruffo with classified ship schedules, Aruffo emailed Francis: "(Dusek) is an official GDMA cardholder, attached are the skeds he provided."

In a letter read aloud in court by a prosecutor, Navy Rear Adm. P.G. Sawyer said the release of those classified schedules "put our mission, our ships and our sailors at increased risk of harm."

Dusek, who had influence over fleet movements, was later asked to bring the Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier, to Port Klang, Malaysia, a port owned by Francis. Dusek responded in an email to Aruffo that he'd convinced an admiral that Port Klang was a better choice than where the carrier had planned to dock, and the ship ended up making a stop there in October 2010.

When Francis heard the news, he responded via email: "(Dusek) is a golden asset to drive the big decks (aircraft carriers) into our fat revenue GDMA ports."

GDMA ended up charging the Navy $1.6 million for that stop, a significant amount of that cost being fraudulently billed, said Assistant US Attorney Mark Pletcher. In all, investigators estimate Francis masterminded a $34.8 million over-billing scheme separate from the bribery scheme, in which he overcharged ships for port visits and falsified port tariffs and competitors' bids.

Dusek, who later moved onto other commands, was confronted about his involvement with Francis by Naval Criminal Intelligence Service agents in 2013, said his defense lawyer, Douglas Applegate. Dusek was not forthcoming with the agents. Days later, Francis was arrested in San Diego, drawn there under the guise of a business meeting with Navy officials.

When Dusek learned of the arrest, he deleted his email accounts, but soon after had a change of heart, calling up his commanding admiral and admitting guilt. He is the only defendant in the case to self-report his criminal conduct.

Dusek pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and has cooperated with the investigation, which continues.

On Friday, Dusek made the unusual request of asking to be the first to speak at his sentencing hearing. Defendants often opt to make their remarks to the judge after their defense lawyers have argued.

"I will never forgive myself for my dealings with Glenn Defense Marine," Dusek said. "I recognize my rank is my biggest problem, and also my deepest regret."

In sentencing papers, Dusek further gave context to what was going on in his life at the time, although wanted to make clear he didn't consider any of it an excuse for his behavior.

He called the work environment on the Seventh Fleet "nearly untenable," with 10- to 18-hour work days, seven days a week. His second marriage had ended, he was mourning the death of his father and he sought relief in excessive amounts of alcohol.

He has asked for alcohol counseling to be provided during his time in prison.

Dusek is the third Navy official to be sentenced in the case. Lt. Cmdr. Todd Malaki received three years, four months in prison while Petty Officer 1st Class Dan Layug got two years, three months. Both pleaded guilty to similar conduct.

Francis' cousin, Alex Wisidagama, who carried out the over-billing scheme for GDMA, was sentenced last week to more than five years. Several others, including Francis and Aruffo, have also pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. ___

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