“Fat Leonard” — the central figure in a $35 million corruption scandal in the U.S. Navy — is in Venezuela, perhaps never to receive his due punishment, having fled the U.S. a month ago just days before his sentencing.
And the sailor blamed by his commanders with destroying a $1.2 billion amphibious assault ship, the USS Bonhomme Richard, was cleared last week by a military judge.
Neither story covers the military service in glory.
To be sure, Leonard Glenn Francis — the 350-pound Malaysian defense contractor who routinely bribed naval officials to supply him with classified information on ship movements, direct business to his company and tip him off to investigations — did not escape from military custody on Labor Day weekend. It was the U.S. Marshals service that lost him from house confinement.
The Marshals service, and the federal judge who approved the conditions of his medical furlough from prison, deserve scrutiny for the incredibly lax and opulent terms of his house arrest.
Francis hired his own guards, who were stationed in windowless garages, with no night patrols and no visitor’s logs, while he resided in a $7,000 a month rented house in a gated community. The Washington Post reported last month that Francis always seemed to have advance notice of official visits, and it took six hours for authorities to respond when the severed ankle monitor signaled that there was a problem.
But worse than the ignominy of losing the prisoner is the wantonness of his fraud and the deep-rooted cooperation he got for years from the Navy. Thirty-three officers and civilians have been convicted in the fraud, including a rear admiral, since the first charges were filed in 2013.
Honest officers who reported the fraud far earlier had their careers ruined. The length and breadth of the scandal suggests that the Navy’s culture is far too welcoming to supply chain corruption.
The Bonhomme Richard case is another matter. The ship — the third naval vessel to bear the name — burst into flames on July 12, 2022, while docked in San Diego for $250 million in maintenance work. Seaman Ryan Mays was swiftly blamed for starting the fire.
But the case fell apart. No physical evidence against Mays was presented in his court-martial; a key witness changed his story; and an internal Navy report found that the fire was preventable and unacceptable, and that there were lapses in training, coordination, communications, fire preparedness, equipment maintenance and overall command and control. The Navy has disciplined more than 20 senior officers and sailors.
Mays may well have been charged solely in an attempt to deflect responsibility.
Corruption and incompetence are a poisonous combination in any organization, and one need only look at Russia’s failures in Ukraine to see how that plays out in a military context. The U.S. deserves and demands better of its Navy.
(c) 2022 The Free Press
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.