A former Navy captain pleaded guilty in San Diego federal court Friday to accepting bribes in the sprawling “Fat Leonard” corruption scandal, the latest of nearly two-dozen current or former officers and officials ensnared in the wide-ranging probe.
Jesus Vasquez Cantu, 59, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit bribery, admitting he accepted gifts from Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis, the ship servicing contractor who orchestrated a decades-long scheme that corrupted officers and defrauded the Navy out of millions of dollars.
In a plea agreement he acknowledged that in 2012 and 2013, when he served as Deputy Commander for the Military Sealift Command in Singapore, he accepted gifts of fancy meals, posh hotel rooms and the services of prostitutes all paid for by Francis, chief executive of Glenn Defense Marine Asia.
In return Cantu gave Francis proprietary Navy information and advocated on behalf of Glenn Defense inside the Navy.
That work included giving Francis internal Navy information on another ship servicing company that competed with Francis. He also labored to get the Navy to approve some Glenn Defense charges for a 2013 port visit in Thailand that some in the service were disputing, and providing him with the proprietary, internal daily cost to the Navy for operating a Military Sealift Command ship at sea.
Cantu, who lives in Silverdale, Wash., is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 9. The charge carries a maximum term of five years in prison, but he is likely to receive less than that.
His lawyer, Douglas Applegate, did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Cantu once served from October 2007 to July 2007 as the assistant chief of staff for the Navy’s Seventh Fleet. In his plea he acknowledged that from February 2007 to July 2007 he was part of a group of officers who accepted bribes of meals, hotel stays and prostitutes from Francis that totaled $135,000.
The plea agreement only refers to “others” but in a news release the U.S. Attorney in San Diego said that Cantu’s 2007 conduct was linked to an indictment unveiled in March that charged nine officers with bribery, conspiracy and other charges.
That group included retired Rear Admiral Bruce Loveless. All nine officers have pleaded not guilty.
The fleet patrols a huge part of the western Pacific Ocean, including southeast Asia where Francis’s company worked in a network of ports.
Francis was arrested in 2013 and soon after pleaded guilty. Prosecutors say the corpulent businessman masterminded the scheme, which involved targeting and bribing Navy officials, then getting them to use their influence to get Navy ships to visit ports Francis controlled.
Once there he would systematically overcharge the Navy for all manner of services, from sewage disposal to fresh water, ground transpiration security and fuel. He’s acknowledged defrauding the Navy of $35 million.
So far 29 people, including 21 current or former Navy personnel, have been charged in the investigation, and 19 have pleaded guilty.