The Navy has censured a pair of commissioned officers for their roles in the Fat Leonard public corruption scandal.
The letters of censure issued to the captains by Navy Secretary Richard Spencer serve as both a public rebuke of their actions and shine more light into the web of kickbacks, payoffs and port contracts spun by the portly Leonard Glenn Francis that cost U.S. taxpayers at least $35 million.
At least 10 captains and admirals have received similar written reprimands in recent years.
Capt. Heedong Choi’s infractions took place from 2008 to 2013, as he served in several leadership positions in the Western Pacific, including as commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer Chafee, according to the April 26 letter.
But Spencer concluded that his relationship with Francis went back to 2001, when Choi was a flag aide to the commander of 7th Fleet.
“As Flag Aide, Mr. Francis specifically described you as his means to ‘grease’ your Commander and the ‘pipeline’ between him and your Commander," Spencer wrote. "He also said you were on his ‘payroll’ since that time because you ‘kept delivering.”
In exchange for greasing that wheel, Choi enjoyed several lucrative perks.
“On June 6, 2009, you improperly solicited from Mr. Francis arrangements for your marriage proposal and ultimately accepted the gift of an elaborate and lavish private dinner with a jazz ensemble, on the helipad of the Swissotel in Singapore,” the letter states. “Mr. Francis/GDMA spent approximately $18,000 for this event.”
Francis instructed Choi “to pass the ‘gospel word” of GDMA to other officers, and your actions show you did just that,” the letter states.
From 2008 to 2013, Choi took more than $25,000 in gifts from Francis, and in return the officer improperly endorsed GDMA, facilitated “inappropriate relationships” between Francis and other Navy officers, provided advice on Fat Leonard’s operations and shared internal Navy information with the businessman, according to the letter.
Choi tried to impede an investigation into Francis in 2012 as well, Spencer indicated.
“You notified Mr. Francis of an ongoing investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Korean authorities and provided Mr. Francis information to avoid or minimize criminal and civil liability,” he wrote.
Choi did not respond to requests for comment.
He remains on active duty and is currently stationed with the Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at State University of New York Maritime College, according to his service record.
Choi was fired as commander of the unit in May 2018.
While officials did not specify why Choi was fired, Navy spokeswoman Capt. Amy Derrick said at the time that it “was based on alleged personal misconduct that is the subject of an ongoing investigation.”
Choi was administratively reassigned to the NROTC unit at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in New York after his relief, Derrick said.
Retired Capt. Ricardo Martinez was also censured in an April 26 letter.
His Fat Leonard-related infractions took place while he was serving as the U.S. Naval attaché to Indonesia and New Zealand from 2001 to 2008, according to the reprimand.
Martinez received or solicited nearly $16,000 in gifts from Francis and his port services company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, or GDMA, and the April 26 censure letter contains a “chronological list of misconduct.”
Martinez asked Francis to have Navy business cards made for him in February 2002.
The following month, Martinez provided Francis with “a disc containing force protection photos” of the 7th Fleet flagship Blue Ridge when it was in Indonesia.
He shared “nonpublic” information about the 7th Fleet commander’s visit to the area with Francis in April 2003 and was treated to a free dinner and discounted hotel the following month in Malaysia, according to the letter.
Martinez connected Francis with Saudi navy officials in August 2003 and he disclosed sensitive information regarding President George W. Bush’s visit to Indonesia the following month.
He got hooked up with free or discounted lodging over the next several months, and then reviewed, edited and drafted documents hyping GDMA’s experience and technical capabilities, the letter states.
The letter details 13 instances where Martinez “drafted, reviewed, or edited documents or emails that Mr. Francis/GDMA intended to send to Department of Navy personnel.”
The relationship continued after Martinez started his twilight tour in New Zealand in 2004.
In spring of that year, at Francis’ request, Martinez drafted an email for Francis to send to a Navy judge advocate which requested a change to an ethics opinion regarding whether sailors could attend a GDMA party, according to the letter.
Martinez asked for and received an array of gifts from Francis, including an iPod and a Game Boy video game system, investigators determined.
A few months earlier, he wrote a letter for Francis to send to Navy officials regarding force protection measures and told the magnate to whom he should send his pitch, according to the reprimand.
By 2006, Martinez pinged Francis several times about GDMA giving him a job.
“Between May and July 2006, you contacted Mr. Francis on four separate occasions to discuss employment with GDMA, offering to take leave to travel to Singapore to discuss it with him in person,” the letter states.
“You also sent Mr. Francis a hand-written note and a traditional wooden Maori waka huia box in connection with your employment request.”
In early 2006, Francis asked Martinez for information about a rival defense contractor and stated that he needed help “to eliminate the competing firm.”
“You eagerly responded to Mr. Francis’ request for information and assistance,” the letter states.
At other times, Martinez ordered a Ford Excursion for Francis and had it delivered to him, a purchase the officer made with a discount he got due to his diplomatic status, according to the reprimand.
“You maintained a highly inappropriate relationship with Mr. Francis/GDMA during two tours and abused the power associated with your position as a U.S. Naval Attaché and senior Naval Officer for your own benefit,” the letter states.
“The frequency of the gifts you solicited and received, your direct and personal contact with Mr. Francis regarding the gifts, and your work on behalf of Mr. Francis/GDMA make absolutely clear that you used your public office for private gain.”
Martinez, a submariner and Texas native, retired in 2008.
Messages left for him Tuesday by Navy Times were not returned and emails and other attempts to contact him were unsuccessful.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.