NAVAL BASE NORFOLK, Va. — “Fat Leonard” is a liar, the feds botched the probe and the military judge should declare a mistrial, defense attorneys argued on the eve of the first open court trial in the ongoing Navy fraud scandal.
Charged with leaking information to staffers in a now defunct company run by Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis. the trial of Cmdr. David Morales was supposed to begin on Monday.
Instead, pretrial motions and the inability for the Navy to find the right bailiff bogged down proceedings at the courtroom here. If convicted, Morales faces up to 17 years behind bars.
Under military law, the bailiff must be at least equal in rank to the accused, so the Navy had to scramble to get a senior commissioned officer in place in time for trial.
Once the Navy found its bailiff, however, defense attorneys dropped a bombshell, telling Navy trial judge Capt. Charles N. Purnell that they intended to file a motion seeking to declare the court-martial a mistrial. They contend government prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that could clear Morales and painted the portly Leonard, whose health kept him from testifying in court, as a liar.
“We were surprised to find out that Leonard Francis did not tell the truth during the deposition,” said Frank Spinner, a retired Air Force lawyer who is representing Morales alongside Cmdr. Chris Czaplak, the executive officer of the Navy’s Defense Service Office, Southeast.
When questioned during taped testimony in California about a “sex trip” he and Morales allegedly took to Bangkok from June 22 to 23, 2013, Francis fibbed at least 11 times, Spinner told Capt. Purnell.
More troubling, Spinner said, was the fact that Mark W. Pletcher, a federal prosecutor, was present during the deposition and might well have realized that Leonard was lying — or that he came over time to realize it — but he failed to disclose that to the court.
Pletcher did not return telephone messages left at his San Diego office by Navy Times.
Spinner said that the recent indictment of retired Navy Capt. David Haas by Pletcher and other federal prosecutors in San Diego alleges that Francis really traveled to Thailand to meet him to arrange a ship husbanding contract, not Morales.
The former director of operations for the Japan-based 7th Fleet aboard the flagship Blue Ridge, Haas has been charged with enjoying luxury hotel rooms, sexual favors from prostitutes and other perks procured by Francis in exchange for sliding Navy deals to the crooked Malaysian contractor.
Spinner pointed to text messages pulled from Francis' cellphone after his 2013 arrest and internal company records that were seized by the government that reveal Fat Leonard was prepping a trip to Thailand, complete with feasts and sex workers, for Haas, not Morales.
To Spinner, it was bad luck that put Morales in Bangkok with Haas and Francis. He said that Morales met at a social gathering the day before Francis was supposed to fly to Thailand. On a lark, Francis invited Morales along for the ride.
Spinner doesn’t deny that Morales went with him but insists that Francis deposited him at the Conrad Hotel in Bangkok and left him alone “for hours” while he went to meet with Haas.
Spinner pointed to a text message Francis received from one of his deputies, Neil Peterson, who asked where he was.
“In Bangkok, engagement 7FL N3” Francis allegedly responded.
As director of operations for the 7th Fleet, Haas would’ve been known as the N3.
Spinner said that Francis tried to order prostitutes for Haas, but the hotel staff turned them away. Francis and Morales departed the next day for Singapore.
Francis pleaded guilty to federal bribery and conspiracy charges in early 2015 but has not been sentenced. He’s ratted out a series of corrupt Navy officials, however.
Federal prosecutors have charged 32 defendants and 20 pleaded guilty to public corruption charges. The Morales case is unique because he’s the first military defendant to be tried in open court. The others took plea deals or have yet to go to trial.
Navy prosecutors face a five-year statute of limitations in the case dogging Morales. If the judge rules for a mistrial, the statute will toll and the government might not be allowed to refile charges.
Judge Purnell urged military prosecutors to come to court on Tuesday morning with "all possible remedies” to combat the defense’s efforts to secure a mistrial.
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.