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KPBS Evening Edition

Navy corruption trial enters final phase

The largest corruption scandal in Navy history may finally be drawing to a conclusion with the start of closing arguments Thursday in the so-called Fat Leonard case.

More than two dozen officers have been caught up in the long-running corruption probe. Most of the officers have pleaded guilty to helping Leonard Francis defraud the U.S. Navy. After 14 weeks, the trial of the last five naval officers under indictment is nearing an end, with Francis, also known as Fat Leonard, never taking the stand.

The Malaysian contractor steered the Navy to ports in the western Pacific operated by his company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia. Leonard ultimately pleaded guilty in 2015 to overcharging the U.S. government at least $35 million.

In closing arguments Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Pletcher focused the jury on emails sent between the defendants, Francis and other officers who have already pleaded guilty in the nearly decadelong corruption probe.

The defendants are accused of releasing dozens of classified documents to allow Francis to track the movements of the 7th Fleet.

“The defendants took care of Leonard Francis because, time and time again, he took care of them,” Pletcher said.

The trial focused on a timeframe from 2006 to 2013, when Francis was taken into custody in San Diego.

In exchange for sensitive information, Francis paid for lavish parties in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Manila, stays at fancy hotels, luxury items and top-shelf champagne.

Prosecutors said each officer played a different role in an overall conspiracy. Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, the highest-ranking officer on trial, is charged with accepting bribes. The lawyers for each defendant start closing arguments Monday.