SAN DIEGO (CN) — Home to the largest military population in the United States, San Diego will see five former top Navy officials take the stand in federal court as a yearslong bribery case involving sex, Cuban cigars and lobster thermidor begins trial this week.
Dubbed the “Fat Leonard” bribery trial, the Justice Department’s case accuses military personnel of helping ship services contractor Leonard “Fat Leonard” Francis overcharge the government by more than $35 million for husbanding or port services — such as water, food, trash and waste removal — for the Navy’s largest fleet which includes more than 70 ships, 200 aircraft and 40,000 sailors and Marines.
U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, Capts. David Newland, James Dolan and David Lausman, and Cmdr. Mario Herrera will be in a dock of a different sort — the court's dock on trial — this week. While the 2017 indictment included nine men from the Seventh Fleet, four of the defendants pleaded guilty ahead of trial.
The men stand accused of trading military secrets, including classified Navy ship schedules, and substantial influence over port services contracts with Francis, the former president and CEO of Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia, between 2004 and 2013.
In exchange, prosecutors say Francis provided the military brass with luxury hotel stays, sex parties with prostitutes and extravagant meals with tabs close to $20,000.
Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 to bribery and fraud charges. His sentencing hearing has been postponed more than a dozen times. He has been under house arrest due to health problems while waiting to testify in the federal case.
Complicating matters, Francis went public on a podcast in 2021 with a Singapore-based journalist where he offered his own take on the bribery scandal.
The podcast has been the subject of discovery fights between the parties since this past fall. Defense attorneys for the ex-military officers have also claimed prosecutors failed to timely produce other discovery materials as they prepare their clients’ cases.
On Monday, Dolan's attorney Todd Burns raised concerns regarding 77 discovery files prosecutors shared with the defense team on the eve of trial.
In particular, a Department of Defense directive titled “Combatting Trafficking in Persons” was included in the last-minute discovery. The directive included definitions regarding commercial sex acts and indicated “It is DOD policy to … oppose prostitution, forced labor and any related activities that may contribute to the phenomenon of TIP [trafficking in persons] as inherently harmful and dehumanizing.”
Burns argued the government plans to rely on the directive during trial, likely through an expert witness, to draw a line between the claim the prostitutes Francis hired to entertain the defendant Navy captains were trafficked.
“In several juror questionnaires the potential jurors expressed concern about not just prostitution, but that prostitution might be connected to sex/human trafficking. It appears that the government, having noticed this line of prejudicial disposition, has decided to capitalize on it at trial,” Burns wrote in calling on U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino, a George W. Bush appointee, to excuse “potential jurors who have expressed their prejudices with respect to the prostitution aspect of this case.”
Dozens of people are expected to testify in the trial which is anticipated to last up to three months.
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