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Navy corruption case set to return after being sidelined

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Fat Leonard Podcast
In this undated photo, Leonard Glenn Francis, also known as "Fat Leonard," is shown at a Navy event.

The trial in the nearly decade-long Navy corruption case was sidelined for a week over missteps by prosecutors, but Judge Janis Sammartino says she hopes to get the case back on track, for now.

The trial is often dubbed the Fat Leonard probe, after the nickname of Malaysian contractor Leonard Francis, who has already been convicted of bribing dozens of Navy officials. After nine weeks, the case was stalled for over a week while Sammartino looked into whether prosecutors improperly withheld evidence from the defense.

First, the judge will have to look at whether the case rises to a violation of the Brady rule, a federal standard that requires prosecutors to turn over any evidence that may help the defense, says Rachel VanLandingham, a law professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles.

“The defense has indicated, they may ask for a mistrial. I would be highly surprised to see a mistrial because, again, the judge has a chance to fashion appropriate remedy that falls short of a mistrial,” VanLandingham said.

VanLandingham says the judge could limit the testimony of future witnesses. The last five former Naval officers implicated in the probe are on trial in a case that began in 2013, when Leonard was arrested in San Diego and charged with bilking the Navy out of millions.

“This case is hugely significant because it seems to be the largest modern corruption case dealing with the United States Navy. And how the United State’s taxpayer was bilked out of millions of dollars,” Vanlandingham said.

The issue came up after the trial began, as federal agents attempted to contact the sex workers implicated in the case, which stretches back to 2008. One former sex worker in the Philippines told investigators she did not want to come to the US to testify, both over the phone and the texting application Whatsapp. She also said she did not sleep with one of the clients, but told Francis that she did so she could be paid.

The judge allowed the unusual step of requiring Assistant Prosecutor Mark Pletcher to take the stand to explain why they had not told investigators to generate a report for the defense. Pletcher said the issue fell through the cracks, but argued that their failure to disclose the comments of a sex worker did not violate the law.

The judge gave each side a week to file briefs before she makes her decision. In the meantime, the jury is set to return to hearing testimony Monday.