(NEW YORK) — The Navy commander accused of trading information on ship movements to a foreign defense contractor for perks, including Lady Gaga tickets and hookers, was once touted in Navy reports as an immigrant rags-to-riches success story.
Command and Captain-Select Michael Misiewicz, formerly commander of the destroyer class USS Mustin, was arrested earlier this week in connection to a bribery scheme in which he allegedly gave confidential ship schedules and itineraries to the president of Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) — a company that provides in-port services like tugboats, provisions and fuel among other things to large ships in foreign ports. Misiewicz is also accused of using his position both as commander of the Mustin and then as deputy operations officer for the Navy’s Seventh Fleet to manipulate or influence port-call decisions to drive business to GDMA. In exchange, prosecutors said the president of GDMA, who was also arrested, “provided Misiewicz with paid travel, luxury hotel stays and prostitution services.”
Misiewicz, 46, has not been indicted and has not yet entered a plea in his case, according to an attorney assigned to him. He is currently in custody in Colorado — certainly having come a long way from the rice fields of his native Cambodia, but probably not ending up exactly where he meant when he said three years ago that in America, “Anything is possible.”
“You can start anywhere, any place, if you’ve got freedom and you have opportunity like we have in the U.S., the sky is the limit,” Misiewicz said in a Navy profile written in December 2010. “When you think about all the things that could’ve gone wrong…”
That article was one in a series produced by the Navy to celebrate the Mustin’s 2010 visit to Cambodia, marking the first time Misiewicz had been to his homeland in 37 years. The Navy image above shows Misiewicz meeting family members he hadn’t seen for nearly four decades.
“I’ve been thinking about this visit a lot and thinking about all the emotions I will have to cope with about returning to the country I was born in and seeing relatives that have wanted to see me for so long,” he said then, according to the Navy. “Both Cambodians and Americans in my young life sacrificed life and happiness so I could have a better life. So now I am very happy and proud to lead a mission that serves to develop a positive and persistent relationship between the U.S. and Cambodia…”
Misiewicz made the comments just weeks after he first came in contact with an unidentified associate of GDMA’s President, Malaysian citizen Leonard Francis, and the same month Misiewicz attended The Lion King with four members of his family and the associate in Tokyo, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday. The complaint alleges Misiewicz would grow so close to Francis over the next couple years that he began to refer to Francis as “Big Brother” in emails.
According to the Navy’s various accounts and another profile written in 2010 by the Christian Science Monitor, Misiewicz was born in the late 1960s outside the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, with the Vietnam War raging next door. His aunt worked as a maid for a U.S. Army administrative assistant in Cambodia, Maryna Lee Misiewicz. As the Khmer Rouge’s clashes with the Cambodian government grew over the next years, the family asked Maryna if she could adopt the small boy. Eventually, she agreed.
“After some soul-searching, I thought it might be a good thing for me to do,” Maryna told the Monitor in 2010. “Whether they had any idea how bad Cambodia was going to get, they still had some sense that they should have one of their children seek a better life.”
Maryna Misiewicz did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment on this report.
Michael Misiewicz moved with Maryna, who was a single parent, back to the States in 1973 and for the most part grew up in Lanark, Ill., where he said he was probably the only non-Caucasian boy there. Following high school, the Navy says Misiewicz enlisted and attended the Naval Academy after being selected for the Navy’s Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training (BOOST) program. He was commissioned as an officer in 1992.
What Misiewicz didn’t know was that many members of his family had escaped what would be known as the Killing Fields in Cambodia and had immigrated to Texas in the 1980s. The Navy says the family set out searching for Misiewicz with the help of a local college student and managed to track him down for an emotional reunion in 1989. It was then that Misiewicz learned that his father had been killed by the Khmer Rouge in 1977, the Navy said.
Misiewicz rose steadily in the Navy ranks, eventually taking command of the USS Mustis in June 2010, a position responsible for 32 officers and 253 crew members, according to court documents. Less than a year later in January 2011, he was named Deputy Operations Officer for the U.S. Commander Seventh Fleet. A few months after that, he was assigned to U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Co.
“I went [to the U.S.] and I think the initial thought was for me to get a better education, live a better life and eventually return to Cambodia,” he told the Navy in 2010. “When you think about all the things that could’ve gone wrong, I think I’m truly blessed to have so many opportunities and certainly the different miracles that have occurred just for me to reunite with my family.”
If convicted on the conspiracy to commit bribery charge, Misiewicz could face up to five years in prison. Francis and an Navy Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) special agent accused in a separate but related alleged bribery scheme had not been assigned attorneys as of late Thursday. They too face up to five years each if convicted.
Misiewicz’s wife, as well as representatives for the Navy, declined to comment for this report.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Euan McKirdy and Susanna Capelouto, CNN
Jeremy Diamond, CNN
Aaron Smith, CNN