Nearly a decade ago, Adm. Gary Roughead handed over the chief of naval operations crown to his successor at an exclusive gala aboard the U.S. Naval Academy.
But a question has emerged in recent years regarding that Sept. 23, 2011 event: What was Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis doing there?
The Washington Post reported in 2017 that Francis — the Malaysian magnate at the heart of a massive West Pacific graft and bribery web that has ensnared hundreds of Navy officers — was in attendance and posing for photos with Roughead and his successor, Adm. Jonathan Greenert.
While that report illuminated how Francis had installed himself among the highest echelons of the uniformed ranks — even as the Naval Criminal Investigative Service increased its scrutiny of the businessman — it didn’t reveal how he came to score an invite to Annapolis.
But now, records obtained by Navy Times for the first time show that Leonard G. Francis was on Roughead’s “Personal A-list” of guests for the event.
Francis’ company on that elite list included former President George W. Bush, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, retired admirals and sister service brass, according to the records, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.
How he ended up on Roughead’s top-tier guest list remains unclear.
Roughead did not return Navy Times emails and calls seeking comment about Francis’ name appearing on the guest list. He also did not reply to requests for comment submitted through the Navy and Stanford University, where he serves as a distinguished military fellow at the school’s Hoover Institution.
According to a 2017 article in The Post, Roughead said in an email that he couldn’t “recall particulars” about those invited to the event, and declined further comment.
A list of Greenert’s guests for the event included in the records obtained by Navy Times does not list Francis, but it does note when guests overlap with those on Roughead’s A-list. Reached by phone this week, Greenert said he didn’t know how Francis ended up at the event, a point he made to The Post in 2017.
“I don’t know how he got invited, but you have the guest list, so you know that he did,” Greenert told Navy Times Wednesday.
He added that such change-of-commands are “hosted by the incumbent.”
“So the fact that I don’t know that is not unusual,” he said.
Navy Times has sought other records that could further illuminate how Francis came to attend the ceremony, including a FOIA request for any emails pertaining to Francis’ invitation and RSVP. The Navy forwarded that request to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which has led Fat Leonard-related investigations. NCIS denied that request earlier this year.
“Law enforcement records are exempt if the production of the records at the time requested reasonably can be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings,” the letter states.
Asked if Roughead was the subject of any NCIS Fat Leonard investigations, agency spokesman Jeff Houston declined comment, citing the ongoing nature of the investigations.
Houston did not respond to repeated emails seeking to confirm when the agency started investigating Fat Leonard-related infractions, but The Washington Post has reported that the NCIS effort escalated back in 2009.
Speaking to The Post in 2013, Roughead said he met Francis roughly a decade earlier while commanding U.S. Pacific Fleet. The Post quoted Roughead calling the Fat Leonard scandal allegations “extremely serious, disconcerting and surprising.”
Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 to bribery and fraud charges, admitting that he presided over a massive conspiracy involving his company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, Navy officials, tens of millions of dollars in fraud and millions of dollars in bribes and gifts — from cash to booze-soaked parties, luxury travel, prostitutes and Spanish suckling pigs.
His attorney, Katie Jenkins, declined comment last week when asked about how Francis came to attend the CNO ceremony.
In exchange for millions of dollars in perks, Navy officers gave Francis and his company the heads up on lucrative port service contracts and ship schedules, and Francis routinely overbilled the Navy for port services in the process, according to the Justice Department.
“It is astounding that Leonard Francis was able to purchase the integrity of Navy officials by offering them meaningless material possessions and the satisfaction of selfish indulgences,” the Justice Department said in a release at the time of Francis’ guilty plea. “In sacrificing their honor, these officers helped Francis defraud their country out of tens of millions of dollars. Now they will be held to account.”
The legacy of Fat Leonard
Meanwhile, the Navy has declined to say how it has handled hundreds of lower-level Fat Leonard cases referred their way by the U.S. Justice Department.
Navy officials said in late 2017 that the service was reviewing Fat Leonard allegations against 440 sailors, including 60 current and retired admirals.
But earlier this month, officials declined to say how any of those cases were ultimately adjudicated, nor would they offer a breakdown of how many allegations were substantiated against the flag officers.
That followed weeks of Navy Times queries bouncing back and forth between Navy spokespeople in Washington, D.C., and with public affairs officers at U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia, which is the so-called “consolidated disposition authority” for the Navy’s Fat Leonard cases.
“Due to the ongoing nature of this investigation, and to protect the integrity of the DOJ and Department of the Navy process, it would be inappropriate to comment on the specific number of cases that have been referred to the Navy by DOJ or to breakdown the number of cases by disposition and rank,” Cmdr. Courtney Hillson said in an email.
As of late last year, the feds had charged 34 defendants for Fat Leonard-related crimes and 23 had pleaded guilty.
Officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California did not provide an update to that tally by Navy Times’ deadline Thursday.
One of the higher-profile Fat Leonard cases involving nine former officers is slated to begin on Nov. 1, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
That case involves charges against retired Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, and eight other uniformed defendants who were indicted in 2017 and accused of “acting as a team of moles” for Francis and his company, “trading military secrets and substantial influence for sex parties with prostitutes, extravagant dinners and luxury travel,” according to the Justice Department.
Roughly three months have been set aside for that trial “due to the number of defendants, the breadth of the charged conspiracy, and the national and international publicity,” prosecutors wrote in a July 9 filing.
Others charged and awaiting trial with Loveless and Newland include then-Navy captains David Newland, James Dolan, Donald Hornbeck and David Lausman, as well as then-Marine Corps Col. Enrico DeGuzman, then-Cmdr. Mario Herrera, then-Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Shedd and then-Chief Warrant Officer Robert Gorsuch, according to the department. They have all pleaded not guilty.
The indictment accuses the officers of calling themselves “the Lion King’s Harem,” “the Wolfpack” and “the Band of Brothers” and alleges that the officers did more than just perform various official acts “in return for Francis’s booty,” according to the press release announcing the indictment.
“These officers are also accused of violating many of the sworn official duties required of them as Navy officers, including duties related to the handling of classified information and duties related to the identification and reporting of foreign intelligence threats,” Justice said.
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.