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Retired colonel is second to plead guilty in ‘Fat Leonard’ Navy bribery case

Court room and gavel. (Dreamstime/TNS)

The anticipated criminal trial in the Navy’s sprawling “Fat Leonard” scandal continues to narrow, with a second military officer pleading guilty to bribery last week.

Retired Marine Col. Enrico “Rick” DeGuzman, 63, admitted in his plea agreement Friday to accepting $67,000 in fine dining, gifts and luxury hotel stays in exchange for steering business to Leonard Francis, a military contractor operating in the Eastern Pacific.

At least 27 people have pleaded guilty in the San Diego-based criminal prosecution, including Francis, since the case began in 2013. The case, which has captured worldwide attention as the Navy’s worst scandal in recent history, has become known for the scheme’s mastermind, the charismatic, larger-than-life figure known in military circles as “Fat Leonard.”

According to the indictment, DeGuzman was one of Francis’ more enthusiastic cheerleaders, doing his bidding from the inside, supplying him with proprietary information and bad-mouthing his competitors to help give Francis an edge. That edge ended up costing the Navy at least $35 million, according to acknowledgments in court.

DeGuzman, a Las Vegas resident, is among nine military officers who were charged in the same 2017 indictment. The group is portrayed as a tight brotherhood working together on Francis’ behalf and enjoying grand outings at his expense.

On Tuesday, retired Navy Chief Warrant Officer Robert Gorsuch was the first in the group to plead guilty. Seven officers are still headed to trial, which was supposed to begin Nov. 1 but has now been postponed until February.

DeGuzman served as a Fleet Marine Officer from 2004 to 2007, coordinating missions for the Marines with the Navy’s Seventh Fleet, which became the center of the decades-long bribery scandal.

Prosecutors say DeGuzman attended fancy dinners in ports across the Eastern Pacific paid for by Francis. One dinner and hotel stay in Tokyo in 2006 cost Francis $30,000, according to the plea agreement. In another Tokyo dinner, in 2007, DeGuzman and other co-defendants posed for photos in custom neckties advertising Francis’ company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, or GDMA.

In 2007, DeGuzman forwarded Francis an internal email in which a U.S. State Department official complained about an incident involving one of Francis’ staffers, the plea states. DeGuzman recommended “quick damage control” and separately advocated for GDMA to U.S. officials, laying blame on local Filipino personnel.

DeGuzman also helped keep the scheme going by evaluating other potential recruits. One “shaping operation” was focused on a Navy logistics official, according to the plea. In the indictment, that effort is further described as using the social charms of DeGuzman’s wife to help ingratiate Francis to the official and his wife.

DeGuzman heavily lobbied Francis for a job with GDMA in 2008, according to emails, but later said he would be staying with the Marines for a while longer. He ended up serving as the assistant chief of staff of operations for the Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, based at Camp H.M. Smith in Hawaii until 2011. When his active service ended, he served as the civilian deputy chief of staff of operations in the same unit.

Before leaving for his Hawaii post, DeGuzman emailed Francis: “(U)nfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be able to influence people (from Camp Smith) like I did there at 7th Fleet.”

Francis, who has been cooperating in the case and been in poor health, has yet to be sentenced.


© 2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.