SAN DIEGO — A U.S. Navy commander transferred to Tampa about six months ago is now the third senior Navy official arrested in connection with a massive bribery scheme in Asia involving prostitutes and luxury travel, federal authorities said Wednesday.
The commander, Jose Luis Sanchez, 41, was arrested in Tampa.
In a criminal complaint, Sanchez is accused of accepting prostitutes, luxury travel and $100,000 cash from a Malaysian contractor known in military circles as "Fat Leonard."
Prosecutors say Sanchez passed on classified and internal U.S. Navy information to Leonard Francis' Singapore-based company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd., or GDMA.
Sanchez's attorney could not be immediately reached for comment.
The arrest marks the latest development in the case that signals serious national security breaches and corruption and has set off high-level meetings at the Pentagon with the threat that more people, including those of higher ranks, could be swept up.
A hearing Friday could set a trial date.
Prosecutors in court papers assert that Sanchez is the second Navy commander accused of passing Navy ship schedules to Francis' company.
In charging documents unsealed Wednesday, federal investigators said Sanchez gave classified ship visit schedules and other information to GDMA starting in 2009, when he was serving as a senior logistics officer for the Navy's 7th Fleet in Japan. The arrangement continued until Sanchez transferred to Florida in April, court papers say.
Federal authorities in September arrested Navy Commander Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz. He also is accused of passing confidential information on ship routes to GDMA.
Also charged so far are Francis; the general manager of global government contracts for Francis' company, Alex Wisidagama; and a senior Navy investigator, John Beliveau II.
Beliveau is accused of keeping Francis abreast of the probe and advising him on how to respond in exchange for such things as luxury trips and prostitution services. All have pleaded not guilty. Their defense attorneys declined to comment.
Misiewicz and Francis moved Navy vessels like chess pieces, diverting aircraft carriers, destroyers and other ships to Asian ports with lax oversight where Francis could inflate costs, the criminal complaint alleges. The firm overcharged the Navy millions for fuel, food and other services it provided, and invented tariffs by using phony port authorities, prosecutors say.
Federal authorities said Wednesday they will seek to have Sanchez sent to San Diego to face the charges.
"According to the allegations in this case, a number of officials were willing to sacrifice their integrity and millions of taxpayer dollars for personal gratification," said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy.
The federal government has suspended its contracts with Francis.
The defendants could face up to five years in prison if convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery.
The Washington Post contributed to this report.