The charismatic party persona of the Navy contractor known as “Fat Leonard”, and the lavish parties he often threw, were widely known in military circles throughout Southeast Asia. But for as much good humor as Leonard Glenn Francis did in person, he also did a lot of business via email.
For example, he solicited U.S. Navy officers for classified information, sought their influence to protect and promote his Navy contracts, and held “boys’ nights” with prostitutes in chic hotels as a reward for their loyalty.
The large volume of email communications has been the backbone of the long-running investigation into Francis’ bribery and fraud plot — the worst Navy bribery scandal in modern history — for which he and several officers marines have already pleaded guilty.
Last week, many of those same emails took center stage in the trial against five other naval officers charged with similar corruption.
former Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless; former captains. David Newland, James Dolan and David Lausman; and former Cmdr. Mario Herrera is on trial under federal conspiracy law, as well as bribery and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The trial in federal court in San Diego just completed its sixth week, and it still has at least two months to go.
So far, the 12-person jury – plus six alternates – has heard general testimony from expert witnesses about classified information, ethical obligations, contracts and husband’s activity. As a husbandry agent, Francis and his Singapore-based company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, contracted with the Navy to provide services and sundries to ships visiting overseas ports.
Jurors also heard from two former naval officers – Edmond Aruffo and Jesus Cantu – who have previously pleaded guilty to roles in a larger scheme.
Quid pro quo alleged
The series of emails presented to the court over the past few days continue to rely on this testimony. They paint an apparent — if somewhat disjointed — picture of a quid pro quo relationship between Francis and a group of Navy Seventh Fleet insiders who referred to themselves as a “brotherhood.”
Prosecutors are using the emails to try to prove that the five defendants were part of this corrupt clique.
Defense attorneys sought to discredit the source of the emails and challenge the chain of custody. The bulk of the emails were either seized from Francis’ laptop when he was arrested in 2013 in a San Diego hotel room, or given to investigators by Francis’ own attorneys once he became a cooperating witness for the prosecution.
Many e-mails introduced so far were not even written by or sent to the defendants themselves. Several were written by Francis and other Navy officials who have already pleaded guilty. However, the defendants were frequently mentioned there – either by name, nickname or initials.
“Choke is pushing the Reagans to go to Phuket (looks like it’s going to happen),” said former Cmdr. Jose Sanchez, who has already pleaded guilty, wrote to Francis in July 2009. Choke is Herrera’s nickname, as evidenced by his own alleged signature in another email.
Another email from Sanchez to Francis allegedly asked Francis to send photos of potential prostitutes for an upcoming meeting in Manila, Philippines, in 2009, referring to Dolan’s initials.
Francis eventually sent photos of two women, which were shown to the jury. “Wow amazing…the brothers are ready to indulge,” was Sanchez’s emailed response.
In numerous emails, Francis and various officers discussed upcoming plans for hotel meetings in one sentence and passing classified information such as Navy ship schedules in another, according to evidence presented this week.
In one instance, former Cmdr. Stephen Shedd, who has already pleaded guilty, sent Francis a guest list for an upcoming outing in Tokyo.
Francis replied, “Copy on all hotel rooms and boys’ nights out,” then continued with his request. “I need updated schedules,” he said, listing the Seventh Fleet submarine group, amphibious forces, destroyer squadron, command ship Blue Ridge and d ‘others.
Some emails sent by previously convicted Navy officers included the classified information itself, either in the body of the email or in attachments.
“Locked and ready to fire”
Several emails purport to show how Dolan used his influence as Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics to address complaints Francis had about the procurement process or competing livestock agents.
For example, in a November 2008 email, Francis told Sanchez that a Navy contracting officer was delaying the award of the bid and possibly trying to give it to a competitor. “Ask JD to step up and increase the pressure on them,” Francis asked.
“JD is locked in and ready to shoot,” Sanchez replied.
Francis also complained to Sanchez that the Ship Support Office in Hong Kong, which Francis viewed as an adversary, was overstaffed.
“JD plans to send a note upfront,” Sanchez replied.
A few days later, during the Thanksgiving holiday, prosecutors allege that Dolan, Herrera and co-conspirators were lodged in a Hong Kong hotel and offered a lavish dinner and the services of prostitutes.
In an email afterwards, Sanchez recounted the getaway to Francis, “JD couldn’t be happier and it made his last trip to Hong Kong a moment to remember.” He also suggested they “keep the brothers close” and ask Herrera to deliver weekly updates on the movements of Coast Guard, NATO and Canadian ships.
After the trip, Dolan sent a lengthy email to the Pacific Fleet Rear Admiral’s Supply Officer, repackaging some of Francis’ concerns about the ship support office as if they were his own.
Dolan then allegedly forwarded a copy of the email to Francis, with the singular comment: “Who loves you bro?”
The Rear Admiral responded to Dolan, thanking him for his “great comments” and saying the concerns were “perhaps an action item.” Dolan reportedly passed this on to Francis as well, saying, “It’s on his radar now.”
Prosecutors presented emails from Newland, the main defendant on trial, who served as fleet chief of staff from 2005 to 2007.
In a May 2007 email, Newland reportedly responded to a question from Francis about whether the navy would send ships to Thailand: “I think I have the boss to pay to let the ships go to Phuket.”
In another, Newland – who was preparing to leave the Seventh Fleet in mid-2007 – reportedly wrote to Francis: “I’m looking forward to Sydney more than you think. I’m in the last 2 months here and I’m ready to have fun.
The introduction of the email evidence, while central to the prosecution, also marked a particularly frustrating chapter in the trial.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office used Naval Criminal Investigative Service case officer Cordell DeLaPena as its primary mechanism to get the emails into the trial record — but with strict limitations. U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino ruled that the agent cannot testify as a summary witness — such as drawing inferences or linking evidence — but can only confirm emails he entered or viewed in the part of the survey and then read them aloud.
As a result, defense attorneys objected to nearly every question Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Pletcher asked DeLaPena — many of which were backed up by the judge — arguing that he is being asked to testify beyond what is allowed.
“It’s the same objection!” exclaimed a defense attorney at one point. “We shouldn’t have to protest again and again.”
The defense also has a standing objection to most emails being tendered as evidence, citing chain of custody issues and sometimes raising other reasons.
This resulted in slow moments and particularly tense moments, which Sammartino had to mediate.
“I know it’s hard for all of us – it’s stressful, it’s difficult, it takes time… Everyone is trying their best,” she said after an exchange on Wednesday.
Later, on a somewhat lighter note, the judge turned to the case officer on the stand: “The investigation was easy. That’s the hard part.”
Email evidence is expected to continue next week, followed by DeLaPena’s cross-examination. Prosecutors later indicated plans to call several other Navy officials who have already pleaded guilty, including Sanchez, Shedd, former Chief Warrant Officer Robert Gorsuch, former Capt. David Haas, former Capt. Donald Hornbeck, as well as Francis.