NORFOLK, Va. — Accepting and soliciting gifts of lavish hotel rooms, drinks, meals and prostitutes has officially ended the careers of two of the Navy’s rising stars — and will put a dent in both of their savings accounts as well.
Capt. John F. Steinberger and Cmdr. Jason W. Starmer both struck deals with military prosecutors in separate but concurrent trials that played out March 6 in adjacent courtrooms on Norfolk Naval Station.
The pair became the latest casualties of the Leonard “Fat Leonard” Francis scandal as they struck plea deals with Navy prosecutors and Adm. Phil Davidson, who, as head of Fleet Forces Command, has been designated the convening authority in any of the scandalous Fat Leonard cases.
The 350-pound Francis, a Malaysian businessman who ran the Singapore-based company Glenn Defense Marine Asia, admitted last year to bilking the Navy for $35 million in overcharges. He has yet to be sentenced.
Steinberger, a surface warfare officer, was initially charged with conspiracy, violation of a lawful order, conduct unbecoming, graft and bribery.
In the end, the conspiracy, graft and bribery charges were dropped, and he instead pleaded guilty to a dereliction of duty charge for accepting gifts from Francis.
He also pleaded guilty to an additional charge of conduct unbecoming an officer, specifically for having sex on multiple occasions with on-the-house prostitutes in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and The Philippines.
At the time of the offenses, Steinberger was the commander of Destroyer Squadron 1, embarked on the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson.
The sentence for Steinberger, handed down by Navy trial judge Capt. Charles Purnell, was a punitive letter of reprimand and a $10,000 fine — with no jail time.
Steinberger will be administratively separated from the Navy and is expected to be able to retire as an O-5, the last paygrade in which he served honorably, Navy officials said. Still, the final decision on his retirement rests on the shoulders of the Secretary of the Navy.
“I failed, I absolutely failed,” Steinberger said in his statement to the trial judge before sentencing. “I did do what I plead guilty to ... I am ashamed.”
Since being charged last April 2017, Steinberger has been assigned — in a move that’s sure to raise eyebrows — to Navy Region Southwest as the head of the Navy Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program.
Starmer, meanwhile, is a former enlisted sailor who was initially charged with graft, violating a lawful order, making false official statements and conduct unbecoming an officer while serving as head of operations for the Joint United States Military Advisory Group, Thailand.
He pleaded guilty to the charges of patronizing a prostitute and adultery — for having sex with prostitutes provided by Francis in Singapore on consecutive nights in April 2013.
Starmer also pleaded guilty to willful dereliction of duty for accepting not only the prostitutes, but complimentary food and drinks on multiple occasions.
A 28-year Navy man, Starmer was ordered by Navy trial judge Capt. Robert Monahan to pay a $3,000 fine. He’ll also be restricted to Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington for 60 days. He won’t, however, serve any hard time.
Starmer, like Steinberger, will be administratively separated from the Navy, but will most likely be allowed to retire at his current paygrade. But once again, the final retirement decision will be left to the Secretary of the Navy.
“I was tempted by lust and I failed, and that disgrace I have to live with,” Starmer told the trial judge in an unsworn statement to the court. “That horrible mistake destroyed my career and destroyed my reputation ... I throw myself at the mercy of the court.”
Navy officials also announced today in a statement that Lt. Peter Vapor, a supply officer who has previously been slated for court-martial, agreed to accept nonjudicial punishment from Davidson on Feb. 27. Vapor’s involvement included accepting and patronizing prostitutes, accepting gifts from Leonard and lying about it to investigators.
Davidson found him guilty of violating a lawful order, making a false official statement and conduct unbecoming an officer. His punishment, the release said, was a punitive letter of reprimand and a forfeiture of $2,000 for one month. Vapor will also be administratively separated.
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.