Navy commander first to face military charges in 'Fat Leonard' scandal


The Navy has filed criminal charges against an officer in the “Fat Leonard” scandal, setting the stage for the first military trial in a corruption investigation that has consumed the service for the past four years, documents show.

Navy officials have kept the officer’s name a secret since he was charged in March with conspiring with Leonard Glenn Francis, a rotund Malaysian defense contractor, to recruit and bribe other Navy officials to join a massive scheme to defraud the Navy.

On Monday, the Navy released charging documents that deleted the officer’s name but listed his rank as an active-duty commander and said he allegedly accepted prostitutes, travel and other gifts worth about $5,000 from Francis in 2012 and 2013.

Among the alleged bribes were a gift of four “suckling pigs,” as well as tickets to a Julio Iglesias concert and a Gucci fashion show for the officer and his wife, according to the charging documents.

Navy officials said the commander’s name would be made public at a preliminary hearing next week in Norfolk. If the case proceeds to trial, it would mark the first time the Navy has court-martialed anyone in the scandal.

Francis was arrested by federal agents in 2013 in a sting operation in San Diego and has since pleaded guilty to bribing scores of Navy officials in a decades-long scam to overcharge the Navy at least $35 million for resupplying its ships in Asia.

Since then, the Justice Department has filed federal criminal charges against 21 current and former Navy officials, as well as Francis and five of his employees.

In court filings, the federal investigation has exposed an extensive level of corruption in the Navy’s 7th Fleet, which covers maritime operations throughout Asia. Francis ingratiated himself with senior officers and contracting personnel by throwing extravagant parties with prostitutes and, in some cases, bribing Navy officials with envelopes of cash.

In addition to those facing federal criminal charges, the Justice Department has referred 200 cases involving Navy personnel to the Pentagon for possible discipline or prosecution under military law.

The Navy, however, has been secretive about its investigations and has said little publicly about one of the most embarrassing episodes in its history.

Records show that four admirals have been reprimanded or disciplined for their ties to Francis since 2015, but Navy officials have declined to say how many other personnel have been punished or fined.

Two defense lawyers familiar with the Navy’s investigations said that charges have been filed against at least three other Navy officials and that more potential courts-martial are expected in the coming weeks.

In addition to conspiracy, the Navy commander who faces a military court hearing next week has been charged with graft, bribery, making a false official statement, violation of lawful orders and adultery, which is illegal under military law. He is currently assigned to the Naval Air Force Atlantic.

According to the charging documents, the commander accepted bribes from Francis in Singapore, Thailand, South Korea and Hawaii between March 2012 and September 2013.

The last specific offense described in the documents occurred in August 2013, when the commander allegedly sent a message to Francis asking him for a bottle of Cristal Champagne.

Francis was arrested about a month later in San Diego, along with several other defendants in the case.

cprine@sduniontribune.com



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