Since 2014, federal prosecutors in San Diego have compiled a perfect 16-0 record in convicting corrupt Navy officers and defense contractors tied to the “Fat Leonard” scandal.
But when it comes to doling out discipline to sailors and Marines passed over by the feds, the Navy’s watchdog command targeting ethical scofflaws passes far more often than it prosecutes.
About two out of every three potential public corruption cases can’t be substantiated by military investigators and the Navy has only an ongoing court martial, a pair of lighter non-judicial punishment decisions, plus a handful of sternly written rebukes of senior officers to show for more than three years of inquiries, according to an analysis of a trove of Navy files by The San Diego Union-Tribune following a Freedom of Information Act request.
Ex-Navy Secretary Ray Mabus created the consolidated disposition authority — or “CDA” for short — in the wake of the ongoing criminal probe into Glenn Defense Marine Asia, a defunct Singapore-based defense contractor that was owned by Malaysian tycoon Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis.
In federal court, prosecutors have secured convictions against Glenn and four of his business colleagues; nine Navy officers; a corrupt Naval Criminal Investigative Services agent; and a civilian Department of Defense contracting supervisor.
They’ve also indicted another 10 active or retired military members and a trio of Glenn Defense employees.
The CDA catches a case when federal prosecutors decide that there might be incriminating evidence of military crimes or potential violations of the services’ ethical standards — the types of misconduct never tried in civilian courts.
The files turned over the Union-Tribune tally 50 cases and involve 109 service members. The Navy’s CDA substantiated allegations of illegal or unethical misconduct in 18 separate investigations netting 25 military members.
Ten cases await a final ruling.
Navy officials defend the CDA’s track record, saying that military investigators drew the weaker cases federal prosecutors didn’t want — often because the statute of limitations on offenses had passed or because the evidence against the troops proved shaky or their wrongdoing tame compared to the level of corruption exposed in federal court.
“While recognizing the gravity of the conspiracy and fraud committed against the Navy and the United States by Leonard Francis, the matters being reviewed by the CDA involve an extremely wide range of conduct — including matters where there was clearly no misconduct to matters that warrant criminal charges,” according to a written statement from Navy spokeswoman Capt. Amy E. Derrick to the Union-Tribune.
The statute of limitations for non-judicial punishment is two years, five years for court-martial proceedings. Retired or separated sailors have additional rights that limit the disciplinary options of the CDA, she said.
The admirals also contest critics who focus on the “raw number of matters reviewed by the CDA or percentages of cases substantiated,” she wrote. The bottom line: The Navy “remains committed to holding its personnel accountable” for substantiated misconduct in the Fat Leonard scandal.
Tainted ties to a contractor
Arrested in a San Diego sting operation in 2012, Francis pleaded guilty three years later and awaits sentencing for bribing military leaders to steer ships to his port services, defrauding the Navy of at least $35 million in bogus fees and overcharges — fraud that he has agreed to pay back.
Ongoing prosecutions and CDA records released to the Union-Tribune trace the tentacles of Glenn Defense as it reached into the highest levels of America’s military might in Asia, including the Japan-based Seventh Fleet and — in Hawaii — U.S. Pacific Command and Special Operations Command, Pacific.
Francis admitted to sluicing $500,000 in illicit payments to uniformed and civilian Department of Defense officials. He also plied officials with “Thai SEAL team” prostitutes, lavish feasts, luxury hotel rooms, Cuban cigars, top shelf booze and other perks.
Authorities said two years ago that 30 admirals and 170 other past and present uniformed and civilian employees of the Department of Defense were under investigation for unlawful or unethical links to Glenn Defense.
That means that about half of those cases already exited CDA review, based on the number of files turned over to the Union-Tribune.
Punishments for the 25 individuals with substantiated wrongdoing have been relatively light, according to the records released to the Union-Tribune.
One unnamed senior sailor was docked half of a month’s pay after pleading guilty during legal proceedings below the level of court-martial. Four admirals received letters reprimanding their misconduct and had the commendations they earned on overseas tours revoked. Six unidentified sailors also received unspecified “administrative action” in lieu of serious penalties.
The rest appear to have received no sanction of any kind or, in a handful of cases, were verbally counseled about their misconduct.
Except for the four senior retired officers who drew written reprimands — Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller and Rear Adms. Timothy M. Giardina, Terry B. Kraft and David R. Pimpo, the former deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet — Navy censors redacted the names, ranks and duty assignments of all personnel with substantiated wrongdoing.
On Sept. 20, 2003, for example, an unnamed sailor off of an redacted warship was feted with a lavish dinner by Glenn Defense. Francis himself presented the officer with flowers and a pewter tankard, according to the CDA records.
Navy regulations forbid sailors from receiving expensive gifts and gratuities from defense contractors, even if shipmates do nothing to aid the companies later. However, the CDA’s sole authority in the case, Adm. Philip S. Davidson, indicated only that he privately counseled the sailor about his or her actions.
Others Davidson verbally admonished included senior officers from the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group who ate $730 per plate dinners bought by Francis in Singapore in 2007.
In her statement to the Union-Tribune, Capt. Derrick defended the Navy’s heavy censorship of the records: “Information is redacted only to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation” and the Navy remains “committed to being open and transparent regarding its processes while protecting the rights and privacy of specific individuals and protecting the integrity of the ongoing investigation.”
Davidson is the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces in Norfolk, Vir. Before he took the helm of the CDA in 2016 it was run by Adm. John M. Richardson, now the Chief of Naval Operations. They handled CDA cases as collateral duties.
Different treatment for different ranks?
In the records provided to the Union-Tribune, the most serious punishment CDA meted out apparently came on April 13, 2016, when an unnamed sailor pleaded guilty during non-judicial proceedings to consorting with Francis socially and slipping him the Navy Flag Roster of admirals.
Because disclosing sensitive personnel records violates military security protocols, the sailor urged Francis to keep the file in “close hold.”
The penalty: Half of a month’s pay.
That flummoxed Shawn VanDiver, a former Navy petty officer and now the director of the San Diego chapter of the nonprofit Truman Foundation, a national security think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C.
“When we go to boot camp and as we’re coming up in the military, we’re told that officers and chiefs are held to a higher level, a higher standard,” said VanDiver. “But time and time again we see that that’s just not the case.”
A seaman who arrives late to work or forgets to file a maintenance form faces harsher punishment than the unnamed Navy leaders in the CDA files who were proven to have troubling ties to a criminal contractor, VanDiver added.
“It’s an affront to common decency,” he said. “It’s an affront to everything the military is about. We’re supposed to lead with honor, courage, commitment and integrity. And what they’re doing here isn’t that. It’s showing that rank has its privileges and that’s not how it should operate.”
The Navy’s Derrick disagreed, noting that no enlisted sailors had been prosecuted by court-martial, largely because Francis targeted commissioned officers “to help him in his conspiracy to defraud the Navy.”
Part of the reason for the relatively lax discipline for commanders stems from military law, which bars officials from lowering a commissioned officer’s rank during non-judicicial proceedings.
The officer who pleaded guilty could have faced forfeiture of twice as much pay, 30 days of confinement to quarters or 60 days of restricted liberty, but that’s not the discipline he or she received.
“The Navy is committed to fair treatment of all personnel regardless of rank,” Derrick wrote in the prepared statement. “The CDA considers both aggravating and mitigating factors before deciding what, if any, administrative or disciplinary actions are appropriate. These factors are case specific.”
The records provided to the Union-Tribune did not include the case of Rear Adm. Adrian Jansen, the former Navy attache to Indonesia. He was found guilty during non-judicial punishment proceedings in February for accepting lavish meals and wine from Francis and paid a $7,500 fine.
The records also do not contain the case of Cmdr. David Morales, who has been referred to a preliminary investigative hearing that will determine if he will go to court-martial.
Those files likely will be included in a second batch of CDA records the Navy has promised to send to the newspaper.
Different investigators, similar decisions
Adm. Richardson substantiated wrongdoing by 16 sailors who came before him. They included the four fellow flag officers he reprimanded, plus another unnamed sailor off the carrier Ronald Reagan who drew an unspecified form of “administrative action.”
Four other senior leaders who served in the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group between 2005 and 2007 were found to have engaged in illegal or unethical conduct by Richardson but he ruled that “significant mitigating factors” should soften any potential punishment.
In a pair of other cases from 2005 and 2006 involving unidentified senior Navy officers in the strike group, Richardson wrote that he was forgoing stiffer penalties because the accused continued “to be a significant contributor and valued senior leader in the Navy,” according to the files.
These Navy leaders accepted lavish meals from Francis during port of call visits to Singapore, Malaysia and other Asian destinations but never provided quid pro quo favors to the defense contractor, he ruled.
Richardson also appeared ready to excuse whole commands of wrongdoing because of systemic institutional problems plaguing the Navy’s ability to police ethical scofflaws.
When Richardson closed the case on Vice Adm. Miller, for example, he reasoned that the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group lacked “a uniform and well established process concerning how opinions are sought from an ethics counselor, how evidence of such opinions are maintained, and how market value determinations of gifts are made.”
Miller had accepted a ship model from Glenn Defense in 2006, plus pricey meals in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
In a similar case, Adm. Davidson pointed to an unnamed senior sailor from the carrier Nimitz who took discounted hotel rooms in 2007 from Francis in Singapore and Hong Kong.
Davidson declined to substantiate corruption allegations against the leader because he or she “believed at the time that such action was appropriate and consistent with standard procedures.”
That was the same standard used to dispense with the cases of 60 unnamed sailors who held “honest and reasonable” beliefs that they were allowed to attend Glenn Defense’s parties between 2003 and 2007, according to the case files.
Although they received a range of different perks from Glenn Defense, including $880 per plate dinners, golf junkets and deeply discounted resort room, they were ruled to have unwittingly violated the Navy’s regulations. Partly that’s because Francis used “deceptive practices to give events and appearance of official representation,” spokeswoman Derrick wrote in her statement to the Union-Tribune.
The CDA lacks the legal authority to compel officers and petty officers to reimburse the government for taking prohibited gifts, although sentences in non-judicial and court-martial cases can order restitution.
Saints among sinners
In a handful of other cases, the CDA found accusations against sailors to be baseless.
Following a lavish Aug. 5, 2009 celebration funded by Glenn Defense in Singapore, for example, an unnamed senior officer off the carrier George Washington realized that something was amiss and “took immediate corrective actions,” including alerting the command’s staff Judge Advocate General and repaying “the determined fair market value for meal,” according to the CDA files.
This sailor set a “fine example for our officers and sailors,” Adm. Davidson determined.
That wasn’t the case with other sailors who already were being investigated by the Navy for other illegal or unethical violations.
In 2013, for example, then-Vice Adm. Giardina, the former deputy commander of all military nuclear forces, got caught at an Iowa casino allegedly trying to alter $1 poker chips into $500 markers. The Navy reprimanded him for fibbing to Iowa investigators during questioning and he later reverted to the rank of rear admiral and retired.
When a separate case involving Giardina came before the CDA in 2014, however, he drew only an “appropriate administrative action.” The CDA determined tha he received free dinners from Glenn Defense while serving as the 7th Fleet’s chief of staff in 2003-05 and deputy commander of the Hawaii-based Pacific Fleet in 2010-11.
When contacted by the Union-Tribune, Giardina declined comment.
To Navy Cmdr. Michael Misiewicz, the former commander of the guided-missile destroyer Mustin, pervasive problems dogged the Navy’s anti-fraud efforts for decades, helping to fuel the Fat Leonard scandal.
In a July 7th letter to the Union-Tribune and during a series of emails from the U.S. Penitentiary at Lompoc where he’s serving a 6 1/2-year sentence for bribery and corruption, however, Misiewicz insisted the Navy had “fixed many problems and vulnerabilities because of the scandal, particularly in the area of contracting of port husbanding services.”
While other sailors escaped repaying the Navy for taking outlawed dinners, resort rooms and junkets, Misiewicz spent his life savings repaying nearly all of the $200,200 in fines and restitution tied to his case. He remains in the Navy but no longer draws a paycheck to support his estranged wife and four children.
“I personally believe both the Navy as a whole and enough individuals who did wrong have been held accountable enough,” he said in his letter. “Yes, there are so, so many that got away with wrongdoing, but the impact of continuing investigations/prosecutions is now causing more harm than good and negatively affecting the Navy’s missions and our national security objectives” in hot spots like the South China Sea.
Retired Navy Capt. Lawrence Brennan — now a professor at Fordham University’s School of Law — disagreed, saying that the Fat Leonard scandal trumps the 1991 Tailhook controversy and must be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.
“Tailhook was bad but Fat Leonard points to an institutional problem at the heart of the Navy’s leadership, not just the aviation community,” said Brennan, the Navy’s former Senior Admiralty Counsel. “Fat Leonard is an existential problem for the Navy because it affects the entire institution. It highlights a lack of discipline across the board, especially at the highest levels of leadership, positions that should contain an important level of trust.”
The Tailhook probe ensnared scores of military aviators in allegations that they groped or disregarded the abuse of female attendees at the Las Vegas conference.
It initially triggered few convictions and an official report blamed most of the harassment on low-ranking enlisted men, not commissioned officers.
Roundly decried as an attempt to whitewash the misconduct of commissioned officers, the inquiry gave way to a secondary round of disciplinary actions that destroyed the careers of up to 300 aviators. Critics charged that Tailhook took down too many good leaders but the scandal’s fallout also helped usher women into military roles previously denied to them.