‘Fat Leonard’ bribery case grows by 3 defendants

May 28–The “Fat Leonard” Navy bribery scandal continued to grow Friday, with charges being filed in Virginia and San Diego against three current and former officers accused of divulging inside information about Navy operations and arranging special diplomatic clearances in exchange for gifts, entertainment and prostitutes.

The new charges against retired Capt. Michael George Brooks, Commander Bobby Pitts and Lt. Commander Gentry Debord bring to 13 the number of people who have been charged or pleaded guilty in the long-running bribery scheme orchestrated by Leonard Glenn Francis and his ship servicing company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia.

The scandal has touched nearly every sector of Naval operations. The defendants include active duty and retired officers, an enlisted sailor, Navy contracting officials, a Navy criminal investigator, as well as Leonard and two executives of GDMA.

The company provides fresh water, ground transport, sewage disposal and scores of other services and supplies to Navy ships that visit foreign ports across southeast Asia, an area patrolled by the Navy’s Seventh Fleet.

Scores of officials are under scrutiny in the Navy for their connections to Francis and could face sanctions from the service.

Brooks, 57, who retired from the Navy in Nov. 2011, and Pitts, a commander who was once stationed at the Fleet Logistics Training Center in Singapore — one of the central hubs in the corruption network Francis constructed — made an initial court appearance in Virginia Friday.

Brooks is charged with conspiracy to commit bribery. The indictment says that between 2006 and 2008 he served as the special Naval attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines. In that position he was able to arrange diplomatic clearance for all GDMA ships that entered that country.

That clearance allowed Francis’s ships access to Philippine waters with the “diplomatic imprimatur” of the U.S. embassy, the indictment said. It also reduced the amount of customs fees and taxes the company had to pay and protected the ships from inspections.

Brooks also is accused of letting GDMA executives in 2007 write their own contractor evaluation, required by the Navy, and then submitting the ghostwritten evaluations praising GDMA’s services as his own work. He also allowed GDMA to write up other correspondence regarding refueling in Philippine waters, then sent that along as his own work as well.

Brooks was repaid handsomely, with prostitutes and luxury travel for him and his family, prosecutors say. In May 2008, he was a participant in a “days-long party” held at a luxury hotel in Manila for officers of the U.S.S. Blue Ridge, the command ship for the fleet, that included free-flowing booze and prostitutes, all paid for by GDMA, court documents say.

Pitts, 47, is accused of leaking information about investigations the Navy had opened in 2009 into GDMA’s billings after some Navy officials had become concerned that the service was being overcharged by the company for fuel, sewage removal and other services.

Twice, in 2009 and 2010, Pitts gave Francis reports on the investigation, the indictment said. In exchange he was given the standard menu of bribes Francis offered others that have been charged in the case — lavish meals, entertainment and the services of a prostitute.

Debord served as a logistics and supply officer aboard the U.S.S. Essex beginning in 2008. He’s accused of leaking information about investigations to GDMA, and in one instance in 2008 using his influence to get the Navy not to resupply the Essex at sea with Navy provisions, and instead do so in a port — one that Francis controlled and could bill the service.

Navy officials in 2000 were looking at GDMA charges for force protection — a ring of barges that were strung around ships while they were in port. This was sometimes referred to as the “ring of steel” but some Navy personnel — suspicious of the high charges Francis levied — sardonically referred to it as the “ring of gold”.

Debord, who appeared in court in San Diego Friday, is accused of giving to GDMA information about an investigation into force protection charges in 2009. Court records also say he instructed the company to inflate its invoices for water and trash removal services to the Navy for a 2009 port visit to Singapore, in order to cover the costs of gifts he received.

In return for doing GDMA’s bidding, Debord got hotel stays, prostitutes, cash and other gifts — all paid for by Francis, court records say.

Francis has already pleaded guilty to bribery and fraud charges and is awaiting sentencing. He’s been ordered to forfeit $35 million and pay a still undetermined amount in restitution. One of his lawyers, Devin Burstein, declined to comment on the growing investigation or the new charges Friday.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy indicated the probe is not yet over.

“We will keep going until we are sure we have held accountable every person who traded integrity and honor for parties and prostitutes,” she said.

Brooks was released on a $50,000 bond and Pitts on a $5,000 posted bond in Virginia and were ordered to appear in San Diego next month. Debord also was allowed to post a $40,000 bond Friday.


By Greg Moran, The San Diego Union-Tribune

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