The Navy began its second case Aug. 30 against an officer implicated in the ongoing corruption scandal surrounding defense contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia and its leader, Leonard “Fat Leonard” Francis.
Navy prosecutors outlined their case in an Article 32 hearing at Naval Station Norfolk against Navy Cmdr. Jason W. Starmer, a former enlisted sailor turned foreign area officer who, at the time of the allegations, was head of operations for the Joint United States Military Advisory Group, Thailand.
Starmer, currently assigned to the Transient Personnel Unit at the Navy Yard in Washington, was charged with graft, patronizing a prostitute, adultery and conduct unbecoming, as well as three specifications of violating a lawful order.
If found guilty on all charges, Starmer could face up to 17 years confinement.
Navy pilot Cmdr. David Morales was also charged in the same Norfolk military court in June on similar charges and is awaiting court-martial, though no date has been set.
Francis was arrested in 2013 and pleaded guilty in January 2015 to bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to defraud the United States. He is cooperating with U.S. officials as they prosecute military and GDMA officials. Francis has not yet been sentenced.
The Navy’s case against Starmer charges that the officer accepted gifts in the form of meals, liquor and prostitutes purchased by Francis on several occasions, both in Singapore and in Thailand.
The Navy contends that Starmer then lied to investigators about the events.
The Navy’s case contends that Starmer was fully aware of receiving the gifts that represented payment for past, current and future favors in steering Navy contracts for ship services to GDMA.
Naval Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent Jill Kelly testified in the case. She was the only witness called by either side in the hearing.
She testified that on the night of Sept. 6, 2012, Starmer met Francis in a Singapore gentlemen’s club, where Francis picked up a tab somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,000 for a crowd that included not only Starmer, but other U.S. and GDMA officials.
Navy prosecutors don’t know what part of that total was reserved for Starmer, but they say it’s logical to assume his portion was over $20, the gift limit any U.S. government official can accept.
Kelly said that such events were part of Francis’s “grooming” of Navy officers, when he would give gifts and exchange contact information in an effort to help him overcharge for services provided when U.S. ships hit Asian ports.
Kelly said the evidence shows that Starmer, in his job at the U.S. Military Advisory Group-Thailand, advocated for Francis and his company after a visit by the aircraft carrier Nimitz to Phuket, Thailand, in 2013.
During that visit, a taxi strike kept liberty buses taking sailors to and from town from operating on schedule, resulting in sailors failing to get to the ship on time. The incident angered the then-7th Fleet commander. As a result, contracting officials were threatening not to pay GDMA.
In heated email exchanges, Starmer suggested that officials needed to “cool down,” which the prosecution claims amounted to advocacy for Francis’s company.
That “advocacy” came just a month after Starmer visited Singapore and again met with Francis. Once again, Francis picked up the tab, the prosecution contends, and also included a prostitute for Starmer.
Kelly said that Starmer, in interviews with investigators, admitted to having sex with the woman, but denied knowing she was a prostitute.
“Well, I never saw any money change hands, there was never any talk of prostitutes or mention of money, but shame on me,” Kelly read from Starmer‘s testimony.
Starmer’s attorney, Coast Guard Lt. Robert Canoy, asked Kelly if Starmer was ever actually asked by the investigators if he’d had sex with a prostitute. After reviewing her notes, Kelly said that he had not.
Canoy then told the preliminary hearing officer, Cmdr. Anthony Johnson, that he felt there weren’t sufficient grounds for the charge and that it should be dropped.
But Kelly also outlined text messages that the prosecution says prove that Starmer knew the women provided by Francis were in fact prostitutes.
Kelly said the text messages from Francis’s phone, seized by the government, show that on April 3, 2013, Francis again sent a prostitute to Starmer’s hotel room.
In a text to Francis discussing the previous night, Starmer wrote, “Not very good, she wasn’t very good, wouldn’t [give oral sex], on the phone all night, other than that it was ok.”
Kelly then testified that Francis sent a text to a woman who organized scheduling for the prostitutes — known as “Mama Pat” — who told him to only pay $800 dollars for the evening based on feedback from “Jason.”
In return for these favors, the prosecution contends that Starmer acted as a “sounding board” to whom Francis could complain about Navy officials.
The defense contends that Starmer did not tip off Francis, and instead notified NCIS of potential issues with invoices Francis submitted for payment, which were never fully investigated.
It will be up to Johnson to decide whether any or all of the charges should be carried out. He’ll forward those recommendations to Adm. Phil Davidson, the convening authority for the prosecution.
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.