'Fat Leonard' Navy corruption case goes to the jury
The nearly decadelong "Fat Leonard" Navy corruption case went to the jury Tuesday, with both sides painting an unflattering picture of how the Navy handled business in the western Pacific.
Five former naval officers have been on trial since February. Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, Capts. David Newland, James Dolan and David Lausman, and Cmdr. Mario Herrera all served aboard the USS Blue Ridge — the flagship of the U.S. 7th Fleet in the Pacific.
They are accused of helping Malaysian contractor Leonard Francis, also known as Fat Leonard, bilk the Navy out of at least $35 billion by steering Navy ships to his port operations throughout the western Pacific from 2006 to 2013.
Leonard was arrested in San Diego in 2013.
Loveless retired as a rear admiral. He was a captain during his time in the 7th Fleet and an intelligence officer. He is charged with accepting bribes in the form of lavish meals and parties. Some of the events put on by Francis were widely attended by high-ranking naval officers, including Vice Adm. W. Douglas Crowder, who was in charge of the 7th Fleet.
“Who is Loveless supposed to report this to? The admiral? He’s there at the end of the table eating a dinner salad,” said Thomas P. O'Brien, the attorney for Loveless.
Crowder told the Washington Post in 2018 that he was not questioned in the investigation and always felt uncomfortable around Leonard.
Throughout the trial, defense attorneys have tried to limit testimony that the men slept with sex workers provided by Francis during some of the outings. Judge Janis Sammartino allowed lengthy instructions to the jury, in response to earlier motions for a mistrial.
Francis pleaded guilty in 2015. He is awaiting sentencing, but did not testify. The government had not “hitched its wagon to Francis,’” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Pletcher said.
After 14 weeks, Pletcher summed up the government’s case, saying the evidence is overwhelming — from hundreds of pages of invoices and emails to testimony from some of the 29 officers who have pleaded guilty over the years.
The five men on trial are the last defendants named in a 2018 federal indictment. Among those who pleaded guilty over the years are a former agent for Naval Criminal Investigative Service. He funneled Francis information about ongoing investigations in exchange for cash. Rear Adm. Robert Gilbeau pleaded guilty to lying to investigators in 2016.