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Admiral that oversaw Gallagher prosecution implicated in ‘Fat Leonard’ probe, Navy documents indicate

Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, Navy Region Southwest's new commander, makes her opening remarks after accepting command during a change of command ceremony held on Naval Base Coronado. The ceremony is a naval tradition designed to strengthen the respect for authority and ensure that that all aboard are aware of the authenticity of assumption of command. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist John Scorza/Released)

Redacted Navy documents and the command history of Navy Region Southwest Commander Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar indicate she was investigated in connection with the so-called “Fat Leonard” scandal and had received gifts from the contractor in 1998.

A female officer on-board the salvage ship Salvor accepted gifts in the form of a hotel room, dinner, drinks, entertainment and a golf outing in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, in August 1998, according to a memo signed by Adm. Philip S. Davidson in July 2017.

Although her name was redacted from the documents, Bolivar, a Navy deep sea diver, was the commanding officer of the Salvor in 1998 when the offenses occurred. A lieutenant commander at the time, Bolivar was in charge of the ship from January 1998 through January 2000, Navy records show.

Typically this class of ship carried six officers. Few officers fit the description Davidson provides in his memo.

Scores of Navy officials were alleged to have attended dinners and accepted gifts from contractor Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis. All but a select few of their names were redacted from the Navy’s public records.

Bolivar’s gender and the relatively small size of the salvage community made her identity apparent from the documents.

Bolivar’s spokesman on Monday declined to comment and would not confirm or deny that Bolivar was the subject of the investigation.

The Fat Leonard scandal ensnared a generation of naval officers, as almost everyone who commanded a ship in the western Pacific had cause to do business with Glenn Defense Marine Asia, Francis’ company. GDMA was the Navy’s primary ship husbanding service provider in the region for more than a decade.

Despite finding misconduct in the Francis case, Davidson wrote in his memo that the unidentified officer “continued to be a significant contributor and valued leader in the Navy.” He recommended she remain in command.

He wrote that he “personally addressed this … through administrative action and consider this matter closed.”

Bolivar — the so-called “Navy Mayor” of San Diego — until recently was the convening authority over two high-profile war crimes prosecutions of Navy SEALs in San Diego, involving Navy SEAL Petty Officer 1st Class Edward R. Gallagher and Lt. Jacob Portier.

On Thursday, Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson stripped Bolivar of her responsibility over Portier’s prosecution and announced a probe into the Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps.

That day the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Bolivar also was removed as convening authority over the Gallagher case. Gallagher in July was found not guilty of all but one of the war crimes charges against him.

The CNO, through a spokeswoman, initially denied stripping Bolivar of that authority Friday but on Saturday, Richardson’s office issued a statement announcing that he had.

Gallagher was charged with premeditated murder in connection with the death of a captive, wounded Islamic State fighter during an Iraq deployment in 2017. He denied all the charges, which included shooting at civilians and intimidating witnesses.

After a 2 1/2 week trial at Naval Base San Diego, a jury found him not guilty on most charges, but guilty of one count of posing for photos with the dead body of the fighter.

Gallagher, then a chief petty officer, was reduced in rank to E-6 and sentenced to four months time served.

There is no indication of a connection between Bolivar’s alleged ties to Francis and the decision to remove her authority over the Gallagher and Portier cases.

During the Gallagher trial, pressure mounted on the Navy JAG Corps as Republican politicians became increasing vocal in their support of Gallagher, questioning why the Navy was pursuing the prosecutions.

In March, President Donald Trump intervened in the case for the first time when he released Gallagher from the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar brig.

On July 3, Trump tweeted his congratulations to Gallagher on the not guilty verdict.

Then, on July 31, in response to reports that Navy prosecutors received awards after the trial, Trump rescinded those awards and, in a series of tweets, criticized the Navy’s prosecution.

The next day Richardson announced the probe into the JAG corps.

The JAG Corps also played a key role in the ongoing “Fat Leonard” scandal. Troves of Navy records show that time and again JAG officials told Navy officers they were authorized to attend lavish dinners Francis hosted.

JAG officials also were involved in the Consolidated Disposition Authority, which chose which officers would be court-martialed, censured or unpunished in connection with the “Fat Leonard” scandal.

Bolivar is one of hundreds of naval officers who were investigated by the CDA and not punished for connections to Francis.

Richardson led the CDA before becoming CNO in 2015.

Francis was arrested in San Diego in 2013 and pleaded guilty to defrauding the Navy out of at least $34 million by overcharging ships for fuel and security in western Pacific ports of call. To facilitate his criminal enterprise, Francis threw opulent dinners for scores of naval commanders from the 1990s through the time of his arrest. He hand-picked some for bribery, paying them with cash, hotel rooms, travel, luxury goods and the services of prostitutes in exchange for large contract awards and classified ship schedules.

The worst offenders were prosecuted by the Justice Department, but the vast majority were passed off to the Navy for action.

The Justice Department built cases against 22 officers; 12 have pleaded guilty while 10 still await trial. A dozen other commanders were censured by the Navy.

Francis remains on house arrest somewhere in San Diego County and is reportedly in ill health. He has not yet been sentenced. Prosecutions in the case are ongoing, as is the Navy’s investigation.


© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.