Say, just how many admirals does the US Navy have — and were any of them not involved with “Leonard the Legend” Francis? In March, the “Fat Leonard” case made headlines when the Department of Justice indicted a second admiral along with seven other naval officers in the corruption scandal, but that may have been just the appetizer. The Washington Post’s latest update in the Navy’s “Fat Leonard” corruption case claims that over sixty admirals have come under suspicion:
The “Fat Leonard” corruption investigation has expanded to include more than 60 admirals and hundreds of other U.S. Navy officers under scrutiny for their contacts with a defense contractor in Asia who systematically bribed sailors with sex, liquor and other temptations, according to the Navy.
Most of the admirals are suspected of attending extravagant feasts at Asia’s best restaurants paid for by Leonard Glenn Francis, a Singapore-based maritime tycoon who made an illicit fortune supplying Navy vessels in ports from Vladivostok, Russia to Brisbane, Australia. Francis also was renowned for hosting alcohol-soaked, after-dinner parties, which often featured imported prostitutes and sometimes lasted for days, according to federal court records.
The 350-pound Francis, also known in Navy circles as “Leonard the Legend” for his wild-side lifestyle, spent decades cultivating relationships with officers, many of whom developed a blind spot to his fraudulent ways. Even while he and his firm were being targeted by Navy criminal investigators, he received VIP invitations to ceremonies in Annapolis and Pearl Harbor, where he hobnobbed with four-star admirals, according to photographs obtained by The Washington Post.
The two admirals previously charged were Rear Admiral Bruce Loveless and Rear Admiral Robert Gilbeau, who pled guilty in 2016. Altogether, 28 people have been charged by the DoJ in the scandal, making it already the biggest corruption scandal in the Navy’s history. Francis himself has been cooling his heels in jail since pleading guilty in 2015 to getting approximately $35 million at the expense of American taxpayers, awaiting sentencing.
The scope of the probe turned out to be much larger than first admitted. The Navy confirmed to the Post’s Craig Whitlock that 440 officers had been under investigation, including over 60 admirals. For scale, Whitlock notes parenthetically that the Navy has around 21o active-duty officers of those ranks, which means it would have involved more than a quarter of the Navy’s senior leadership [see update].
So far, the Navy has exonerated just a little over half of those under investigation — 230 officers of all ranks. That leaves over 200 still under investigation, although Whitlock also points out that the statute of limitations for most will have already passed, at least under military law. That may be why the Department of Justice has taken a lead role in pursuing corrupt officers.
How much did “Fat Leonard” pay for his $35 million? IBT’s Pritha Paul runs down a list of bribes that show a significant investment … and a lack of character for those who took part:
1) Travel expenses and stays at luxury hotels such as Marriott Waikiki in Hawaii; Shangri-La hotel in Makati, Philippines; Grand Hyatt hotels in Singapore and Hong Kong, China; Empire Hotel in Hong Kong; Ritz-Carlton Bali resort hotel in Indonesia; Sheraton Juneirah Beach hotel in Dubai; Shangri-La Hotel in Jakarta; St. Regis Bali resort, Indonesia; Lodging in Tonga and other unnamed hotels in Tokyo, Japan; Manila, Philippines; Hong Kong, China; Malaysia; Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea and Singapore. Prostitutes were often arranged to accompany the Navy personnel during their stays. …
9) Electronic gadgets, including a cellphone, iPad, digital camera and Wii and PSP video-gaming consoles
10) Five-country vacation in Southeast Asia
11) Wild sex parties for Navy’s 7th Fleet, the USS Blue Ridge, and other warships
The 7th Fleet operates out of Japan, part of the Pacific theater for the US Navy, which has been much in the news lately after two major accidents resulted in 17 deaths. Did Fat Leonard’s corruption create a contributing factor to the lack of focus on seamanship behind the accidents? It certainly seems as though something distracted command from its mission. The Navy has sent a special team out to take control of the 7th Fleet’s readiness last week:
In Honolulu, Adm. Scott H. Swift established the Naval Surface Group Western Pacific. Headquartered in the Japanese port of Yokosuka, the detachment is designed to oversee the training and certification of forward-deployed surface warships.
Initially reporting directly to Swift, the team comes armed with the power to veto a warship for operations in the Western Pacific or assign commanders and their crews to remedial training before a vessel puts to sea.
In a news release on Tuesday, Swift said that he formed the group to bridge an organizational gap in the Navy’s 7th Fleet that “allowed a culture to grow myopically focused on operations to the detriment of readiness.”
On Jan. 31, the cruiser Antietam ran aground on rocks along the Japanese coast. Less than five months later, the cruiser Lake Champlain bashed a South Korean fishing boat. Then came the deadly June 17 destroyer Fitzgerald crash with a merchant vessel and, on Aug. 21, the lethal collision of an oil tanker with the destroyer John S. McCain east of Singapore.
Prosecution of individuals connected to Francis might be a good way to remind other officers of the seriousness of the mission, too.
Update: An astute reader points out what I overlooked — that the sixty-plus admirals include retired admirals, which means that the comparison to the 210-plus active duty admiral slots is not quite apples to apples. It’s still a lot of the current and recent leadership of the US Navy, of course. Thanks to Hal D for the correction.