A corruption scandal surrounding a Singapore businessman who bribed ‘scores of’ US Navy officers in return for contracts escalated into the biggest fraud investigation in Naval history.
Leonard Glenn Francis – known as Fat Leonard – was legendary on the high seas for his appetite for excess as he showered Navy officers with gifts including Cuban cigars, prostitutes, Spanish suckling pigs and an array of luxury goods worth millions of dollars in return for defense contracts.
But after years of bribery, federal agents decided on a risky sting operation to nab 350 lb Francis and his firm Glenn Defense Marine Asia.
It involved luring him to California on the offer of a meeting with admirals who said they had lucrative contracts to offer, reports The Washington Post.
The meeting took place on September 16 2013, where he was arrested in his hotel suite overlooking San Diego’s harbor.
Following the arrest, hundreds of law enforcement agents arrested other suspects in three states and seven countries and seized incriminating files from his business empire.
Glenn Defense Marine Asia, now financially ruined, billed the Navy for fuel, tugboats, barges, food, water and sewage removal at ports he controlled.
Francis pleaded guilty to fraud and corruption charges in January 2015 but the investigation has steadily escalated into the biggest fraud case in the Navy’s history.
The 51-year-old Malaysian had infiltrated the Naval ranks so deeply that his company had no fear of getting caught and were given rafts of leaked confidential contracting information.
They even gave him active law enforcement investigations about his own company.
Following his arrest, four Navy officers, an enlisted sailor and a senior agent with the Naval Criminal Investigation Service have pleaded guilty to federal crimes and are already jailed or likely to be.
Three more were charged Friday making the total 13 and nine have pleaded guilty. Many more are still under investigation.
The extent to which he infiltrated was staggering – it became a challenge for him to juggle all his informants. One retired Navy officer even suggested: ‘The Soviets couldn’t have penetrated us better than Leonard Francis.’
The officer added: ‘He’s got people skills that are off the scale. He can hook you so fast that you don’t see it coming. At one time he had infiltrated the entire leadership line.’
Francis had a brush with the law in his early twenties after the pub he ran in Penang, Malaysia, was raided by police who found two revolvers, 14 rounds of ammunition and a bullet proof vest.
He pleaded guilty and spent 18 months behind bars and received six strokes of the lash, as per Malaysian law.
After he came out of prison he became devoted to his family business and became immersed in US Navy culture – even donning neckties emblazoned with the American flag – and learned the inner workings through former Navy officers that he had on payroll.
By the early 2000s, Glenn Defense secured a number of contracts to service US Navy ships across the world and also won business from other navies including Britain and Mexico.
In order to woo the Americans he would offer them ‘five star service’ as they arrived at his ports, often greeting them in person and arranging site seeing tours and concert tickets for the officers.
While a select number would be treated to fine food and wine.
He even purchased a decommissioned British warship, renamed it the Glenn Braveheart, and occasionally turned it into a giant party boat, complete with prostitutes in the wardroom according to court records and interviews seen by the Post.
The thank you letters – known as Bravo Zulu in the Navy – from high ranking officers came flooding in, which he paraded in his brochures as well as photographs of himself with top admirals.
He also spread his tentacles through the vise of charity and became a leading sponsor of civilian nonprofit called Navy League of the United States.
Even when his exorbitant bills were challenged, he was able to exploit his high ranking connections to deflect them.
David Schaus, a junior officer assigned to the Navy’s Ship Support Office in Hong Kong, told the Post the company ‘was rotten from the first day I worked with them in 2004, and everyone knew they were rotten’ but if you challenged status quo you were shot down.
In 2006, Francis planted several moles in the Navy’s regional contracting office in Singapore, where one Navy worker, Sharon Gursharan Kaur leaked confidential information for about $100, 000 in cash and luxury vacations.
While a relationship struck with Paul Simpkins, an American Navy contract supervisor who worked in Singapore, led to Francis securing Navy contacts and more in exchange for $450,000 in cash.
Simpkins also ordered the Navy’s Hong Kong office to stop using flow meters to gauge the sewage Glenn Defense pumped from the shifts, making it easier for the firm to gouge the Navy for the service.
But in 2010 after years of blatant and widespread corruption, the NCIS opened two separate criminal investigations for its billing practices in Thailand and Japan.
One step ahead, Francis had a turncoat law enforcement agent.
In a leaked email from Francis he wrote: ‘I have inside Intel from NCIS and read all the reports.
‘I will show you a copy of a Classified Command File on me from NCIS ha ha.’
But in the end, it was his overconfidence that led to his downfall.