A retired master chief pleaded guilty in San Diego last week to taking kickbacks and became the latest casualty in the Navy’s ongoing “Fat Leonard” public corruption scandal.
Ricarte I. David, 61, copped to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud on Sept. 5, less than a month after prosecutors unveiled a grand jury indictment against him, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
As part of his plea deal, David confessed to receiving luxury hotel stays and envelopes stuffed with cash from the ship servicing contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia and its portly Malaysian magnate, Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis, between 2005 and 2009.
In exchange, David signed off on inflated invoices for water, trash and other port services for vessels in the Japan-based 7th Fleet.
David held key logistics positions in the west Pacific between 2001 and 2010, including stints on the amphibious warship Essex and the aircraft carriers Kitty Hawk and George Washington.
During their exchanges, David called Fat Leonard “Boss” and signed his emails about kickbacks and bloated invoices as “Bad Boy" and repeatedly hounded the corrupt contractor for cash, partly to pay for a retirement home the master chief was building in the Philippines.
“If you can please help me out with some ($cash) I really need some help to build my retirement home,” David wrote in one message.
In a written statement provided by California defense attorney Eliot Krieger on Thursday, David said he “should have known better” but also cast himself as just a tiny cog in a vast Navy machine of corruption.
“The day I took my oath to be a part of the US Navy was the greatest day of my life,” David wrote. "I love America and loved serving it and have done so for 30 years. However, the culture of the military in Asia was one where you were taught by your mentors that it’s OK to take gifts and that is the way things worked there. In retrospect, they taught you to participate so they would not get into trouble. I should have known better. I should have stood up to them and upheld the great oath that I took. I failed. I take full responsibility for my actions and it is my fault that I did what I did.
"The worst day of my life was when I held up my hand again (as I did when I took that original oath) but instead pled guilty to failing to live up to the high standards I had set for myself. I wanted to make this statement to remind young people in the military, who might be in a situation like mine, that they need to always remember the oath they took, and always remember that as a member of the United States Armed Forces, they must resist temptation, do the right thing even if it is hard to do and avoid what I am going through now.
“The one good thing that will come out of this is giving statements to people like yourselves (reporters and others), so I can teach young people to stand up for doing the right thing,” he wrote.
David’s words echoed those of convicted senior commissioned officers, who confessed to being groomed by their superiors to do Fat Leonard’s bidding in exchange for cash, sumptuous feasts and bevies of prostitutes.
According to his plea agreement, David’s corruption began in 2005, when Glenn Defense Marine Asia — or GDMA — rented an executive suite for him at the Singapore Marriot hotel. Later that year, David inflated invoices for GDMA.
Acknowledging the kickbacks from Francis in a message, David thanked the tycoon for a “wonderful Christmas present."
The next year, David hit Francis up for more payola: “I have six years left till I retire perhaps we can make some business again just like we did in Hong Kong. Need some cash before I retire," he wrote in an email.
GDMA bankrolled a harbor view room at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong in late 2006, and David replied that he appreciated the gift.
With a 2007 port call in the Philippines looming for the amphibious warship Essex, David wrote Francis again, offering to inflate GDMA’s husbanding invoices: “Boss, just in case I’m not on the port visit you can go ahead do your thing. Put some dollar on the CRT/Water/Trash or Force protection.”
“You and me are the only one will know,” David added.
Other swank hotel room stays followed in 2008 and David pinged Francis for more cash in 2009, according to the plea.
When the George Washington visited Manila later in 2009, David received $15,000 from a Francis employee.
Currently free on bail, David is slated to be sentenced in November. He faces up to 20 years behind bars and a $250,000 fine.
His plea deal was first reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.