The Navy's Going Easy On Officers In 'Fat Leonard' Scandal, Report Suggests

U.S. Navy photo/Scott A. Thornbloom

It was “perhaps the worst national-security breach of its kind to hit the Navy since the end of the Cold War, as the Washington Post put it: Leonard Glenn Francis, a 350-pound defense contractor, plied dozens of Navy and Marine personnel with prostitutes and cash to get sensitive info on their ships’ movements — info he used to snag port-service contracts and overbill the service to the tune of at least $35 million. 

So far, federal authorities have successfully prosecuted 16 service members and contractors for their roles in the “Fat Leonard” scandal.

The Navy? Not so much.

According to Marine veteran and San Diego Union-Tribune military reporter Carl Prine, the naval service’s ethics watchdog — once led by a lenient admiral who’s now the chief of naval operations — “has only one ongoing court-martial, a pair of lighter nonjudicial punishment decisions and a handful of sternly written rebukes of senior officers to show for more than three years of inquiries” related to the scandal.

Among the officers who have been disciplined by the service, punishments have been surprisingly light — a fact that some critics say highlights the easier treatment commissioned officers get from NJP and courts-martial.

“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,” Navy veteran and Truman Foundation representative Shawn VanDiver told Prine. “But time and time again, we see that that’s just not the case.”

That’s not how it was supposed to be. Shortly after the Fat Leonard scandal became public knowledge in 2013, then-Navy Secretary Ray Mabus set up a “consolidated disposition authority” to address related cases not handled by civilian authorities. “The Navy does not convene a team to review cases and dispense justice (and give it a Grim Reaperesque title of “Consolidated Disposition Authority”, no less) unless…the organization expects that team to be relatively busy,” naval analyst Dr. Craig Hooper suggested after the CDA’s creation.

But Prine suggests the CDA hasn’t been that busy. A Union-Tribune analysis of CDA files, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows that while 200 sailors and DoD personnel were flagged for investigation in connection with the Fat Leonard case, the CDA has disciplined only 25 personnel for wrongdoing in four years with “relatively light” punishments.

Those punishments included letters of reprimand for four admirals; administrative action for six other sailors; and forfeiture of half a month’s pay for one sailor who confessed to slipping Francis the Navy Flag Roster of admirals.

In some cases, sailors who received $750-a-plate dinners and personal gifts from Francis were simply given private talking-tos by Navy higher-ups — including current CDA chief Adm. Philip Davidson and his predecessor, Adm. John Richardson, who is now the CNO. Both in Fat Leonard cases and in unrelated investigations where they had substantiated misconduct, the admirals sought leniency for the offenders for a variety of reasons, Prine’s reporting reveals.

Experts tell Prine there are plenty of reasons for why the Navy’s Fat Leonard investigations haven’t yielded more, and harsher, punishments. According to Navy spokeswoman Capt. Amy Derrick, the service is focused on cases not taken up by prosecutors, meaning there’s usually insufficient evidence or statutory basis for criminal prosecution.

Beyond that, officers can’t suffer a reduction in rank from nonjudicial punishment, and the CDA “lacks legal authority to compel officers and petty officers to reimburse the government for taking prohibited gifts,” Prine reports.

But critics say these are profound problems for a service that can’t expunge its ranks of loose-lipped backbiters and bribe-takers who shared operational details with a defense contractor simply for a little cash or companionship. The Fat Leonard case “highlights a lack of discipline across the board,” as retired Navy lawyer Lawrence Brennan told Prine.

“Tailhook was bad,” Brennan added, referring to the 1991 misconduct scandal that paralyzed the naval aviation community, but “‘Fat Leonard’ is an existential problem for the Navy because it affects the entire institution.”

Every once in a while, we run across a photo in The Times-Picayune archives that's so striking that it begs a simple question: "What in the name of Momus Alexander Morgus is going on in this New Orleans photograph?" When we do, we've decided, we're going to share it — and to attempt to answer that question.

Read More Show Less
Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces control the monitor of their drone at their advanced position, during the fighting with Islamic State's fighters in Nazlat Shahada, a district of Raqqa. (Reuters/Zohra Bensemra)

MUSCAT (Reuters) - The United States should keep arming and aiding the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) following the planned U.S. withdrawal from Syria, provided the group keeps up the pressure on Islamic State, a senior U.S. general told Reuters on Friday.

Read More Show Less

President Donald Trump claims the $6.1 billion from the Defense Department's budget that he will now spend on his border wall was not going to be used for anything "important."

Trump announced on Friday that he was declaring a national emergency, allowing him to tap into military funding to help pay for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Read More Show Less

Long before Tony Stark took a load of shrapnel to the chest in a distant war zone, science fiction legend Robert Heinlein gave America the most visceral description of powered armor for the warfighter of the future. Forget the spines of extra-lethal weaponry, the heads-up display, and even the augmented strength of an Iron Man suit — the real genius, Heinlein wrote in Starship Troopers, "is that you don't have to control the suit; you just wear it, like your clothes, like skin."

"Any sort of ship you have to learn to pilot; it takes a long time, a new full set of reflexes, a different and artificial way of thinking," explains Johnny Rico. "Spaceships are for acrobats who are also mathematicians. But a suit, you just wear."

First introduced in 2013, U.S. Special Operations Command's Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) purported to offer this capability as America's first stab at militarized powered armor. And while SOCOM initially promised a veritable Iron Man-style tactical armor by 2018, a Navy spokesman told Task & Purpose the much-hyped exoskeleton will likely never get off the launch pad.

"The prototype itself is not currently suitable for operation in a close combat environment," SOCOM spokesman Navy Lt. Phillip Chitty told Task & Purpose, adding that JATF-TALOS has no plans for an external demonstration this year. "There is still no intent to field the TALOS Mk 5 combat suit prototype."

Read More Show Less

D-Day veteran James McCue died a hero. About 500 strangers made sure of it.

"It's beautiful," Army Sgt. Pete Rooney said of the crowd that gathered in the cold and stood on the snow Thursday during McCue's burial. "I wish it happened for every veteran's funeral."

Read More Show Less