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Retired Navy commander gets 30 months prison for accepting ‘Fat Leonard’ bribes

Cmdr. Troy Amundson, right, speaks with members of the Philippine navy before a closing ceremony for Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey. CARAT is a series of bilateral exercises held annually in Southeast Asia to strengthen relationships and promote maritime security. (Navy Visual News Service/TNS)
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In an email arranging to hand off proprietary Navy information to the flamboyant contractor Leonard Francis, Navy Cmdr. Troy Amundson described himself as “a small dog just trying to get a bone.”

Later that night, Francis procured the services of several prostitutes from Mongolia for Amundson, prosecutors say, just one in a string of bribes that Francis paid for leaked military data.

On Friday, Amundson was sentenced to 30 months in prison. He joins the ranks of more than a dozen other Navy officials whose military service is now tarnished with felony records for getting cozy with Francis in what has become the worst corruption scandal to hit the Navy in decades.

Amundson, a decorated combat pilot, told the judge that, at the time, he didn’t realize what he was doing was illegal. The ship schedules laying out port visits in Southeast Asia that he passed on to Francis weren’t classified and were regularly given to contractors, his lawyers said.

But the judge disagreed, pointing to the secrecy with which Amundson operated.

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“It was calculated. It was deliberate,” U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino told him on Friday. “I think you certainly knew what you were doing, sir. As decorated as you were, it’s hard to fathom why you’d sell out for so little.”

Unlike some other Navy officials who served Francis — nicknamed “Fat Leonard” — and his Glenn Defense Marine Asia contracting company, Amundson didn’t accept any cash bribes. But he had a good time on Francis’ dime: lavish meals, parties, hotel stays and the services of prostitutes.

He has agreed to pay $21,625 in restitution as part of the plea deal — an amount that Amundson says stems from a night of playing blackjack at a casino — and the judge also ordered a $10,000 fine.

Amundson earned several medals for his combat flying in multiple conflicts, including recognition for saving six lives. He flew unarmed aircraft into battle zones and directed in armed aircraft to engage enemy forces.

From 2008 to 2012 he was based in Singapore as a Cooperation Afloat and Readiness Training, or CARAT, Exercise Officer and Theater Engagement Manager for the Commander, Logistics Group Pacific. The role had him leading joint military exercises with other nations.

Amundson said during that role, he’d always been suspect of GDMA’s seemingly excessive billing practices and did not deal with Francis. GDMA provided husbanding services to visiting war ships, from trash removal to water to security.

After he left his position in the CARAT program, Amundson said he went to a Francis-funded karaoke party with several other naval officers — a regular affair in ports where Francis operated. It was after that that Francis approached him and befriended him.

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Amundson said his replacement at CARAT was no longer sending out the ship schedules to contractors in a timely fashion, so Francis asked Amundson to pass the info along.

“GDMA already had the contract to do the husbanding,” Amundson’s attorneys pointed out in a sentencing memorandum. “The CARAT information merely told GDMA what port and what type of ship it would have to husband.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Pletcher argued it was much more than that.

In December 2012, after another Francis-paid night out for Amundson and other officers, which included the services of prostitutes, Amundson gave Francis a manila envelope containing confidential, proprietary Navy information relating to Amundson’s work on an upcoming CARAT exercise, noted prosecutors.

“A clearer example of quid pro quo is difficult to imagine,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo.

Amundson communicated with Francis on BlackBerry messenger, Yahoo email and WhatsApp rather than his Navy email account.

At one point, he told Francis he can’t use BlackBerry messenger because he was “100 percent sure” he was being monitored.

In March 2013, he wrote: “Handoff?” and then told Francis his “program is awesome. I am a small dog just trying to get a bone … however I am very happy with my small program. I still need 5 minutes to pass some data when we can meet up. Cannot print.”

After 24 years of service, Amundson retired from the Navy in May 2013, staying in the Far East. He married a woman from Indonesia and they had two daughters. He also has a daughter entering college.

Francis was arrested in September 2013 at a San Diego hotel after being lured here by authorities. Soon after, federal law enforcement visited Amundson and asked him about his dealings with the contractor. After the interview, Amundson deleted all his email correspondence with Francis, prosecutors said.

Like many of the naval officers who have come before Sammartino for sentencing, Amundson said he fell victim to Francis’ charming overtures of friendship.

Amundson apologized for his conduct, saying the crime has taken an enormous toll on him and his family. He lost his job at General Dynamics in the Minneapolis area after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery.

“I am living with self-disgust I feel for having compromised my duty to country,” he wrote in a letter to the judge.

His attorney, Roseline Feral, said Amundson’s behavior in the case was aberrant and blamed his mental state on the effects of war.

“What he has done for this country will never be erased by where he is now,” Feral told the judge, as Amundson stood beside her.

While 21 people, including Francis, have pleaded guilty in the case, 12 others continue to fight the charges.

Francis has agreed to pay $35 million in restitution but is still awaiting sentencing as he cooperates with the investigation. His health is failing so much so that he was granted bail and is living in an undisclosed location near his physician in the San Diego area.

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© 2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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