SAN DIEGO (AP) — A U.S. Navy commander pleaded guilty Tuesday in a massive bribery scheme involving a longtime military contractor in Asia who allegedly offered luxury travel, prostitutes and other bribes to Navy officers in exchange for confidential information.
Jose Luis Sanchez, 42, is the highest-ranking official to plead the guilty in the case, which rocked the Navy when the first charges were filed in 2013. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison when he is sentenced March 27.
Sanchez, who lives in San Diego and remains on active duty, was asked to silently read four passages of a 24-page plea agreement and say if the wrongdoing described was accurate.
"Yes, sir," he told U.S. Magistrate Judge David Bartick each time.
Robert Huie, an assistant U.S. attorney, told reporters that Sanchez admitted taking bribes of cash, prostitutes and hotel stays over four years.
Sanchez was charged with accepting bribes for steering Navy ships to Leonard Glenn Francis, chief executive of a Singapore-based company that provided services to vessels at ports.
Francis, known in military circles as "Fat Leonard," and his company Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd., or GDMA, serviced Navy ships for 25 years. Prosecutors say he bought information that allowed his company to overbill the Navy for port services in Asia by at least $20 million since 2009.
Francis was arrested in September 2013 and has pleaded not guilty.
Sanchez, one of four Navy members charged in the case, held key positions in Singapore and Japan before he was reassigned to Tampa, Fla., in 2013. Prosecutors alleged that he took $100,000 in cash, plane tickets and prostitution for information on Navy shipping schedules and other information, some of it classified.
The judge agreed to let Sanchez remove a GPS monitor while free on bond and allowed him to back the bond with assets of his mother and sister, instead of his own property.
Sanchez's attorney, Vincent Ward, said his client needed his own money to pay legal fees and assured the judge that Sanchez wouldn't betray his family by failing to appear for sentencing. His mother and sister sat in the front row.
"He's closer to his mom and sister than anyone," Ward said.
Sanchez and his attorney declined to speak with reporters as they left the courtroom.
He is the fifth person to plead guilty in the case and the second Navy official. Daniel Layug, a petty officer who admitted providing classified shipping schedules and other internal Navy information to Francis, pleaded guilty in May.
Navy Cmdr. Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz has pleaded not guilty.