The former spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet pleaded guilty Tuesday to pocketing tens of thousands of dollars while moonlighting as the public affairs officer for the portly Malaysian shipping magnate known as “Fat Leonard.”
Retired Navy Capt. Jeffrey Breslau, 52, was paid more than $60,000 by Leonard Glenn Francis to provide “public relations consulting services” from May 2012 until Fat Leonard was arrested in a 2013 sting in San Diego, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
Also Tuesday, retired Master Chief Ricarte I. David, 62, was sentenced for his role in the scandal after he pleaded guilty to taking cash and other perks.
Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 to plying scores of senior Navy officers in the west Pacific with cash bribes and lavish gifts that included five-star hotels, top-shelf booze, prostitutes and suckling pigs.
In return, military officials, mostly in the Navy, slipped Fat Leonard classified information detailing ship movements or otherwise aided his firm — Glenn Defense Marine Asia, or GDMA — in securing lucrative contracts to provide port services.
In a Tuesday release, Defense Criminal Investigative Service Director Dermot O’Reilly called the ongoing Fat Leonard probe “the largest fraud and corruption scandal in the history of the U.S. Navy.”
Breslau’s dance with Francis began six year ago, while he was serving as the top spokesman for the Hawaii-based Pacific Fleet, according to his plea agreement.
After transferring to a Navy crisis communications team in Virginia in 2012, Breslau continued quietly consulting Francis on how to manage PR tied to the port service contracts he had with the Navy.
Breslau helped Francis on everything from framing port visit costs to addressing “allegations of malfeasance” involving unauthorized waste dumping, competitor disputes and issues with the Pacific Fleet, according to the plea agreement.
From March 2012 to Francis’ arrest in September 2013, Breslau sent at least 135 emails advising Francis. He provided at least 14 sets of “talking points” before Fat Leonard met with senior Navy officials. He also “ghostwrote” emails from Francis to Navy officials, according to the plea agreement.
Investigators estimated that Breslau was paid about $65,000 for this work but never disclosed his moonlighting gig to the Navy.
The retired captain from Cumming, Georgia, could face a maximum sentence that includes five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and up to three years of supervised release.
Breslau’s defense attorneys said Tuesday that their client’s culpability was a matter of him failing to disclose outside employment and isn’t similar to the public corruption pleas dogging other Fat Leonard defendants.
“It’s a much different matter,” attorney William Cowden said.
Another member of Breslau’s defense team, Eric Montalvo, said Breslau received permission to pursue outside work from the Navy “several years ago,” and that his client is “not some criminal mastermind.”
But when his moonlighting opportunities came to include Francis, Breslau failed to disclose that to the Navy, Montalvo said.
Cowden said Breslau had received verbal permission for outside work before, but “failed to get written permission” when he transferred to his new post in Virginia.
“He had no idea Leonard was under criminal investigation,” Cowden said.
Breslau retired in 2014, according to Montalvo.
Also Tuesday, retired Master Chief Ricarte I. David was sentenced to 17 months in prison, followed by a year of supervised release and will pay $30,000 in restitution, according to the Justice Department.
David copped to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud in September.
As part of his plea deal, David confessed to receiving luxury hotel stays and envelopes stuffed with cash from Francis from 2005 to 2009.
In exchange, David signed off on inflated water, trash and other port servicing invoices for vessels in 7th Fleet’s waters, according to the Justice Department.
David held key logistics positions out there, including stints on the amphibious warship Essex and the aircraft carriers Kitty Hawk and George Washington.
During their exchanges, David called Francis “Boss” and signed his emails regarding kickbacks and faked invoices as “Bad Boy.”
Records show David repeatedly hounding Francis for payments.
“If you can please help me out with some ($cash) I really need some help to build my retirement home,” he wrote in one message.
Via a statement from his lawyer, David expressed remorse for his actions after pleading guilty in September.
“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,” David said in September. “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.”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at email@example.com.