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Opening statements continue in bribery trial of Navy officers

The sign outside of the Edward J. Schwartz U.S. Courthouse in downtown San Diego, August 23, 2018.
Christopher Underwood
The sign outside of the Edward J. Schwartz U.S. Courthouse in downtown San Diego, August 23, 2018.

Defense attorneys for a group of Navy officers accused of accepting bribes from foreign defense contractor Leonard Glenn "Fat Leonard" Francis argued Thursday that government prosecutors had no evidence that their clients had any illicit agreements with Francis, or that they could deliver the benefits Francis allegedly sought from them.

The defendants, former members of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet, are charged with accepting bribes to steer business in the Western Pacific to Francis' Singapore-based company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, which prosecutors allege overbilled the Navy by more than $35 million to provide husbanding services.

The officers allegedly provided Francis with classified information regarding ship schedules and used their positions in the Navy to influence the movements of ships to ports serviced by GDMA, allowing Francis to dominate his competitors in the region.


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In exchange, the officers were allegedly provided with gifts such as expensive meals, fancy hotel accommodations and the services of prostitutes, all on Francis' dime.

Francis and more than two dozen other defendants — including four other Seventh Fleet members — have pleaded guilty, with the lone remaining defendants — Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, Cmdr. Mario Herrera, Capt. David Newland, Capt. James Dolan and Capt. David Lausman — on trial in San Diego federal court for the next few months.

Their attorneys forwarded similar arguments this week, namely that their clients lacked the power to influence Navy procedures to the degree prosecutors claim, and that any relationship they may have had with Francis was above board.

Prosecutors allege that the men operated at Francis' beck and call, and referred to him in correspondence in subservient tones, calling him "Admiral," "Emperor" and "Boss." Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Wasserman alleged in her opening statement Wednesday that the men willingly served Francis because he was able to provide them with "a scale of luxury that is otherwise not accessible to government employees."


The former officers' attorneys have denounced Francis as a self- absorbed con man who has spun a web of lies implicating numerous officers, but also described him as a fixture with the Navy dating back to the 1980s. Any communication between Francis and their clients was merely a part of the ongoing relationship Francis had long ago established with the Navy, the attorneys claimed.

Robert Boyce, who represents Lausman, told jurors GDMA was well known as "the best-performing husbanding agent at the time." Others whose clients have been photographed attending dinners and other events Francis hosted, said Francis was regularly invited to Naval social events and even sponsored some of them.

That the officers maintained a positive relationship with GDMA was part of their duties to ensure their ships and sailors received adequate services while in port.

Further, the attorneys alleged their clients could not wield the influence that would make them worth bribing.

Wasserman referred to Newland as Francis' "ultimate fixer," who was able to use his influence to get ships moved to GDMA ports when Francis desired, though his attorney, Joseph Mancano, denied that Newland had any role related to ship-husbanding contracts during his time in the Seventh Fleet.

Similar allegations towards James Dolan were also rebuffed by his attorney, Todd Burns, who said those husbanding contracts were handled by another entity, the Fleet and Industrial Supply Center,

Bruce Loveless' attorney, Ivy Wang, said her client's duties involved assessing the military capabilities of foreign threats and thus had no role in any contracts or husbanding services that would benefit Francis.

Instead, the attorneys alleged Francis and others who have pleaded guilty have lied to investigators and could be expected to lie during their testimony in the trial in order to secure reduced sentences and other benefits from the government.