A case that ranks as the worst corruption scandal in the US Navy history.
- Bribed Navy officers with illicit luxury gifts, extravagant feasts, marathon sex parties, hookers
- Had prostitutes on call from 8 countries
- Held Navy contracts to provide everything the crew needed while in port, from fuel to food
- Received classified itineraries of all US ships and submarines in Asia
- Got aircraft carriers and other vessels rerouted to ports where his company could overcharge the Navy for supplies and services
- Pleaded guilty to bribery and defrauding the military $35m, jailed in San Diego since 2013
Malaysian citizen Leonard Glenn Francis, also known as ‘Fat Leonard’, is a 6-foot-3, 350-pound tugboat owner based in Singapore who held lucrative contracts to service US Navy ships and submarines in Asian ports.
In a case that ranks as the worst corruption scandal in US Navy history, the Justice Department has charged 15 officers and one enlisted sailor of the USS Blue Ridge with taking bribes from or lying about their ties to Francis.
The floating headquarters for the Navy’s 7th Fleet, the Blue Ridge is the Navy’s second-oldest active-duty vessel and has survived the Vietnam War, the Cold War and tensions with China and North Korea.
It is said to be the most capable command ship ever built and is packed with state-of-the-art communications gear so that it can track and command the fleet’s formidable assets, comprising about 60 warships and submarines, manned by a combined 20,000 sailors, carrying out missions in the Pacific and Indian oceans.
The Blue Ridge spends about half of the year docked at its home port in Yokosuka, Japan, and the rest making the rounds in Asia.
Prosecutors say nine sailors from the warship leaked classified information about ship movements and other secrets to Francis, making the Blue Ridge perhaps the most widely compromised US military headquarters of the modern era.
The Navy is investigating dozens of others who served on the ship for possible violations of military law or ethics rules, The Washington Post recently reported.
Between 2006 and 2013, Francis plied Blue Ridge personnel with illicit gifts, feted them with epicurean feasts and threw sex parties for Navy officers on at least 45 occasions.
Blue Ridge officers consumed or pocketed about $1 million in cash, antique furniture, luxury watches, designer handbags, tailored suits, liquor, Cuban cigars, cases of beef, gourmet meals, concert tickets, vacations and airline tickets, as well as revelled in the attention of prostitutes.
Although Francis offered bribes and freebies to hundreds of Navy personnel serving on other US warships, bases and embassies in Asia starting in the early 1990s, the Blue Ridge was his primary target.
Staff officers on the Blue Ridge had the clout to intervene on behalf of Francis’s company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, because they managed operations, logistics and intelligence for the entire 7th Fleet.
Of foremost importance to Francis was the officers’ access to the classified itineraries of all US ships and submarines transiting the region. Court documents show he built a network of informants to feed him the secret itineraries.
He then prodded his moles on the Blue Ridge to reroute aircraft carriers and other vessels to ports controlled by his firm so he could more easily overcharge the Navy for fuel, other supplies and services.
For years, when the Blue Ridge arrived in a port, it would be welcomed by Francis, flanked by a black sport-utility vehicle or limousine and an entourage of young women.
His company held Navy contracts to provide everything the crew might need while in port, from fuel and tugboats to food and fresh water to security guards and ground transportation.
Also known within Navy circles as ‘Leonard the Legend’, Francis was renowned for the perks that he provided off the books.
The Washington Post reported snippets from the trial that gave a lurid account of the depravity involving the military men and so-called “SEAL teams” of prostitutes Francis engaged to entertain them.
The phrase SEAL Team refers to the elite special forces branch of the US Navy.
Besides paying for meals at Asia’s fanciest restaurants, Francis had the penchant for importing select high-level prostitutes from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, China, Mongolia and Russia.
Organising the sex workers into what he dubbed “elite SEAL teams,” he would fly them from their countries to whatever port the Blue Ridge might be visiting.
In February 2006, as the Blue Ridge prepared to visit Hong Kong, a military lawyer sent an ethics alert to senior officers on the ship to beware of defence contractors who might try to bribe them.
Instead of complying, 7th Fleet chief of staff Capt David Newland immediately leaked the message to Francis so that the contractor could cover his tracks, according to an indictment filed last year in federal court in San Diego.
Prosecutors said Newland was one in a long line of Blue Ridge officers who had been on the take from the contractor.
The next day, the Blue Ridge docked in Hong Kong for a 72-hour visit. Newland and other officers dined and drank at Francis’s expense at a swanky French restaurant, racking up a $20,000 tab; then they spent the night at the Shangri-La Hotel, where Francis covered much of the cost, the indictment states.
Three weeks after Hong Kong, the Blue Ridge arrived in Singapore where another party awaited.
On March 9, 2006, at least seven officers attended a twilight cocktail hour held by Francis on the helipad atop the 73-storey Swissôtel the Stamford, one of the tallest hotels in Southeast Asia, according to court documents and photographs of the event obtained by The Post.
Afterwards, the group dined in a private room at Jaan, the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, where they savoured foie gras terrine, oxtail soup and duck-leg confit followed by a degustation of baby lamb, according to a copy of the menu from that evening.
For dessert: dark Manjari chocolate gelee, with cacao nib foam, poached rhubarb and passion fruit sorbet. The officers drank Hennessy Paradis Extra cognac at $2,000 a bottle and smoked Cuban Cohiba cigars worth $2,000 a box, records show.
If there was any doubt about who was paying for it, the menu declared in large type that the hosts for the evening were Mr and Mrs Leonard G Francis.
Over time, Francis’s corruption of the Blue Ridge’s wardroom became progressively decadent, court records show.
In 2008, during a visit to Manila, he spent more than $50,000 for “a raging multi-day party” for Blue Ridge officers in the Presidential Suite of the Makati Shangri-La Hotel, the court records show.
Prosecutors say Francis hired a “rotating carousel of prostitutes” for the party. The group downed the hotel’s entire supply of Dom Pérignon and swapped sex partners in the suite, according to the indictment.
“I finally detoxed myself from Manila,” Cmdr Stephen Shedd, a 7th Fleet planning officer, emailed Francis a week later. “That was a crazy couple of days. It’s been a while since I’ve done 36 hours of straight drinking!!!”
Over the next six years, some Blue Ridge officers who swallowed Francis’s bait grew hungry for more than their steady diet of exquisite meals and romps with prostitutes.
Capt Donald Hornbeck, the 7th Fleet’s deputy chief of staff for operations, persuaded Francis to arrange a culinary internship for one of his relatives at the posh Chalet Suisse restaurant in Kuala Lumpur and cover $13,000 of her living expenses, according to the indictment.
Cmdr Jose Luis Sanchez, a deputy logistics officer for the 7th Fleet, pleaded guilty to accepting between $30,000 and $120,000 worth of cash, paid sex, travel and other favours. Prosecutors say he pocketed at least $100,000 in cash.
Even the spouse of one of the Blue Ridge’s former skippers had her hand out, court records show.
Carol Lausman, the wife of Capt David Lausman, accepted an $8,400 Versace purse while on a 2011 visit to Hong Kong, according to an indictment against her husband.
“Leonard gave me a lovely gift,” she emailed a Glenn Defense staff member before complaining that the gold insignia on the purse had cracked.
Glenn Defense sent her a new Versace purse as a replacement.
During an earlier visit by the Blue Ridge to Thailand, Francis told his staff in an email to pay for Carol to stay at a beach resort with her husband and for other perks.
“Fast track and VIP service. Best room at Sheraton,” Francis instructed. “Arrange Market trip and tour for shopping in Bangkok. She wants to make silk pants. Cheap price. We pay ha ha.”
Other spouses allegedly received their share, too.
In 2007, Francis gave a pair of Ulysse Nardin watches, worth $25,000, to Shedd and his wife, according to the indictment.
A few months later, Shedd emailed Francis to ask whether he would mind paying for the couple and two children to vacation in Singapore and Malaysia.
Francis paid for their expenses, which amounted to $30,000 for the week-long vacation, according to the indictment.
A few months later, Shedd allegedly came back for a bigger favour. He was in dire straits. He emailed Francis a spreadsheet listing his personal debts and requested for urgent help in paying them off.
“I’ve got about 10 days before I’m in big trouble and I really, really appreciate your assistance,” Shedd wrote. “I’ll get you whatever information you need.”
Tired of Shedd’s requests for handouts, Francis responded with a demand of his own. He asked for classified details of upcoming ship visits to the South Pacific.
“The info is required by tomorrow,” he ordered in a terse email.
The Navy officer obeyed right away, according to the indictment. Francis had his secret ship schedules within eight hours.
Five days later, however, Shedd still had not received the money he needed. Not sure if he had been duped, he sent Francis an email: “I was wondering if you have reached a decision on my Shedd Bailout/Rescue Loan proposal.”
Whether Francis came through in the end, the indictment does not say.
Having pleaded guilty to bribery and defrauding the military of $35 million, Francis, 53, has been in jail in San Diego since his arrest in 2013.