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Two retired Navy officials plead guilty in ‘Fat Leonard’ bribery prosecution

USS Blue Ridge as it transits through the South China Sea. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason Behnke/U.S. Navy)

Two retired Navy officials admitted Tuesday to corrupt conduct in the “Fat Leonard” bribery scandal, adding to the nearly two-dozen guilty pleas already entered in the long-running San Diego-based prosecution.

Retired Capt. David Williams Haas and retired Chief Petty Officer Brooks Alonzo Parks were indicted separately on the same day in 2018, accused of accepting the now-familiar bribes of lavish hotel rooms, high-roller parties and pricey booze from Malaysian contractor Leonard Glenn Francis. In return, the service members helped route Navy ships to Southeast Asia ports controlled by Francis, a charismatic figure nicknamed for his girth.

Each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in San Diego federal court in sessions conducted via teleconference due to the COVID-19 emergency.

They are among a long string of Navy officials — ranking as high as rear admiral — who’ve been charged in the military’s worst corruption scandal in history.

Of the 33 defendants who have been charged in the U.S., 19 are current or former Navy officials who have pleaded guilty. Francis, who has been in poor health, has yet to be sentenced five years after entering his guilty plea, indicating continued cooperation in the far-reaching probe.

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Nine others continue to head toward trial.

Haas was a captain on the Blue Ridge, a 7th Fleet command ship from which Francis heavily recruited allies.

Haas admitted to accepting bribes valued at $91,000, including access to a multi-day party in Indonesia called “Cinderella Liberty” that included dinner, nightclub entertainment and the services of prostitutes. Another two-day party in Toyko reportedly cost $75,000.

In return, Haas used his influence to benefit Glenn Defense Marine Asia, Francis’ ship-support company that provided everything from water and trash removal to security and tugboat services.

At one point during the relationship from 2011 to 2013, Haas guided the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis to Malaysia to dock at one of Francis’ ports, according to the plea agreement. Francis billed the Navy $2.7 million for the stopover.

Parks was a 7th Fleet logistics officer who admitted in an email to a Francis associate that he’d been bitten by the GDMA “bug,” according to the plea agreement. The relationship lasted from 2006 to 2010, during which Parks used his official position to leak insider information, including tips about competitors and pricing, to help Francis bid for upcoming port visit contracts.

Parks was often specific about his requests for compensation, including a case of “White Hennessy” cognac. At one point, Parks asked for hotel accommodations in Hong Kong during a port visit with a fellow sailor, but when he was offered a standard hotel room he retorted via email: “I’d like something a lot nicer.”

Another time, he was given a $3,000-a-night room at a Hilton in Singapore — after requesting a $4,000-a-night room at a Ritz-Carlton, according to the plea.

“It feels good living like a KING on an E-6’s salary!!!” Parks wrote in one email to Glenn Defense, referring to his military pay grade.

He admitted to receiving bribes valued at about $25,000.

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© 2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune