Leonard Glenn Francis, President and CEO of Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA), was arrested in September 2013, following a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation. He pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges in January 2015. GDMA serviced Navy ships for 25 years and allegedly over-billed the U.S. Navy by at least $20 million since 2009. Here is the rub: Not only did “Fat Leonard” defraud the U.S. Government, but he also bribed Navy and Navy-related personnel for their direct illegal support, which included the provision of information and the purposeful routing of Navy ships to ports that were more lucrative for GDMA. To date, prosecutors report that in one way or another—from criminality to poor judgment—as many as 200 officers are, or have been, under investigation.
As should be expected in any case of this complexity, an arcane organizational lash-up was established to govern the action. Actual criminality would be handled by DOJ and the courts system. Conversely, those found to be potentially guilty of non-criminal activities would be referred from DOJ to the Navy, where a Consolidated Disposition Authority (CDA) would be empowered to dispose of cases at the Navy level.
Unfortunately, many officers still await referral to the CDA and either exoneration or administrative punishment. You see, if you were, or are, deemed by the DOJ to be a person of interest (POI), your case may languish for years before a decision to prosecute or defer is made. At least one flag officer has been a POI for more than three years. To make things even more unsettling, POIs are not allowed to know the status of their cases. They simply float in a weird limbo at the DOJ’s convenience.
In the interim, the public is left to speculate, and the results are predictable. The Washington Post published a lengthy piece on 29 May suggesting far-ranging, yet-to-be-prosecuted criminality, based largely on conjecture and supposition. It was suggested that four four-star admirals may be under investigation or somehow otherwise implicated, based on the “facts” that they each appear in a photograph with Leonard or in their professional capacity wrote thank-you notes to him for his fleet support activities. Actually, it was suggested that if you ever served in 7th Fleet, you must also be guilty of something.
It is also reported that other admirals unethically underpaid for meals provided by Fat Leonard. What is not mentioned is that these officers were cleared of wrong-doing by Navy ethics investigators some time ago. Also, since Leonard tried (unsuccessfully) to bribe one admiral, we are expected to believe that he must have tried to bribe every admiral (the ones in pictures?). And, as one junior officer reported apparent overcharges to Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which found no merit in the charges, it just might be that NCIS is a part of a larger conspiracy. Attractive service persons worked at formal events hosted by GDMA? They must have been prostitutes.
As the saying goes, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” This applies not only at a personal level, where reputations are being unfairly impugned, but also at an institutional level. In the words of one senior admiral, this situation has created a “strategic crisis” for the Navy, and by extension, the military. With all of these persons in stall, one must ask whether we are fielding our best team. Can we field our best team?
Should justice be done? Absolutely. No matter how senior, officers are not above the law. But the investigation goes on without apparent end in sight. There are quite literally dozens of flag officers awaiting disposition so that they may move to new jobs. Actually, the movement of the entire flag community is, and has been, virtually locked in ice for years.
Fat Leonard was arrested in September 2013. Where and when will it all end? Where are the smoking guns suggested by the media?
In a larger sense, how is it possible that GDMA’s crimes apparently went undetected for 25 years? How long was Leonard under suspicion? Was it worth letting this situation drag on while DOJ waited to catch Leonard in a “sting”?
In yet another—and potentially the most important—sense, how is this picture of innocent good leaders having their careers destroyed or their reputations unfairly called into question playing with more junior officers and their families? Is this the kind of life they may have to face going forward?
Finally, when will someone in a position of authority take responsibility for systemic failure, rather than letting individuals endlessly shoulder the burden?