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Navy's 'Fat Leonard' scandal goes to trial

The largest corruption scandal in Navy history is in court. KPBS Military Reporter Steve Walsh says prosecutors say the man they called Fat Leonard seduced the Seventh fleet.

After years of build up, the largest corruption scandal in Navy history is finally getting a hearing in a federal courtroom in San Diego.

Leonard Glenn Francis pleaded guilty to overcharging the Navy millions of dollars to berth ships around the western pacific in 2015. The last five Naval officers charged with helping him are now on trial.

“They have these crazy parties with carousels of prostitutes and nonstop drinking — they share photos of women afterwards,” said Tom Wright, host of the Fat Leonard podcast. “They talked crudely about women. All this kind of stuff is in the indictments.”

The Navy officers are charged with accepting lavish gifts in exchange for helping Francis steer Navy ships to his ports for years until his arrest in 2013 in San Diego.

Federal officials have held off sentencing Francis while the other trials are pending.

Frustrated, Francis went public last year.

RELATED: Navy captain pleads guilty to bribery count in "Fat Leonard" case

“He's one of the longest serving cooperating witnesses in this kind of criminal trial and U.S. judicial history because,” Wright said. “You know this has been a big mess for the Navy and for the DOJ (Department of Justice) because these five — they didn't want a public trial — have continued to plead not guilty.”

More than two dozen other officers have pleaded guilty — one just prior to the trial getting underway. The question is whether the prosecution's star witness will still carry as much weight, since Leonard spoke about the case publicly.

“There's been talk of some of the prostitutes actually appearing on the stand, so we're going to wait to see whether that happens,” Wright said.

Five officers pleaded not guilty — retired Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, former Capt. David Newland, former Capt. James Dolan, former Capt. David Lausman and former Cmdr. Mario Herrera.

All served on board the USS Blue Ridge, the Seventh Fleet’s flagship during various times from 2004 to 2014.

During opening arguments, their attorneys say their clients didn’t have the power to steer Navy contracts to Francis, the way prosecutors allege. The trial is expected to take months.