After a four-year investigation, federal authorities concluded that the Navy's former intelligence chief accepted extravagant meals, cigars and other illicit gifts from a corrupt defense contractor known as "Fat Leonard," but were unable to verify allegations that he also partied with prostitutes, new documents show.
The documents reveal that retired Vice Adm. Ted "Twig" Branch, a fighter pilot and aircraft carrier commander who became the steward of the Navy's secrets, enjoyed a decadelong friendship with Leonard Glenn Francis, a Singapore-based maritime tycoon who has pleaded guilty to bribing military officers and defrauding the Navy of $35 million.
In November 2013, the Navy said it had suspended Branch's access to classified material because he was under criminal investigation by the Justice Department for his ties to Francis. But the Navy allowed Branch to keep serving as its intelligence boss for more than 1,000 days even though he was barred from reading, seeing or hearing military secrets. Branch retired in October 2016.
Last September, the Navy said the Justice Department had referred the case to the Pentagon after deciding not to bring charges.
Navy files obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shed some light on the matter for the first time. The Navy stripped Branch's name from the documents, but Branch confirmed that the files pertained to his case.
The documents indicate that Branch met Francis in 2000 when serving as an officer aboard the USS John C. Stennis, an aircraft carrier. During a port visit to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Branch attended a dinner paid for by Francis' firm, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, and improperly accepted a ceremonial dagger as a gift, according to the documents.
The Navy investigated allegations that Branch also attended a party hosted by Glenn Defense and that the contractor gave him drinks, "the services of a prostitute" and a pewter tea set. In the end, however, the Navy concluded that there was "insufficient evidence" to prove Branch was at the party with the prostitute or accepted the tea set.
Five years later, Branch and Francis met again in Hong Kong, where Francis hosted Branch and about 20 Navy officers for a lavish dinner. The meal cost about $690 per person and featured entertainment, Cohiba cigars, Chateau Lynch-Bages red wine and Remy Martin cognac, the bill said.
Navy officials found that Branch accepted other illicit gifts. Although the Navy cited Branch for four counts of misconduct, it does not appear that it imposed any penalties.