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U.S. Rear Admiral Pleads Guilty In 'Fat Leonard' Navy Bribery And Fraud Case

Rear Admiral Robert J. Gilbeau, left, enters a federal courthouse in San Diego where he pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators in the "Fat Leonard" navy bribery trial.
Lenny Ignelzi
Rear Admiral Robert J. Gilbeau, left, enters a federal courthouse in San Diego where he pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators in the "Fat Leonard" navy bribery trial.

It's believed to be the first time an active-duty U.S. Navy flag officer has been charged with a crime in federal court. On Thursday, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Robert Gilbeau pleaded guilty to a felony charge of lying to federal investigators about his extensive relationship with a foreign defense contractor who's at the heart of a sweeping bribery and fraud scandal.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison; Gilbeau will be sentenced on Aug. 26.

The Department of Justice provides these details:

"In his plea agreement, Admiral Gilbeau admitted that he lied when he told agents from Defense Criminal Investigative Service and Naval Criminal Investigative Service that he had never received any gifts from Leonard Glenn Francis, owner of Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia. Francis has pleaded guilty to plying scores of other U.S. Navy officials with gifts such as luxury travel and meals, cash and electronics and and parties and prostitutes."

Gilbeau acknowledged that he lied when he told investigators that he always split the check with Francis when they had dinner together around three times each year. Justice officials also say that when Gilbeau realized Francis had been arrested, he destroyed documents and deleted computer files.

Francis, the defense contractor in the case, is nicknamed "Fat Leonard. His ties to high-ranking Navy officials were publicly exposed in the autumn of 2013, and in November of that year, the Navy stripped two top naval intelligence officers — Vice Adm. Ted Branch and Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless — of the privilege to see classified material.

As NPR's Scott Neuman reported about that development:

"The move follows the arrest of a third officer in the growing bribery scandal that allegedly involves delivering classified and other sensitive material to Glenn Defense Marine, which resupplies and services Navy ships in Asia. In exchange, the officers allegedly were provided with prostitutes, luxury travel and cash, according to prosecutors."

So far, the case has resulted in 11 current or former U.S. Navy officials facing charges. Gilbeau now becomes the seventh of that group to plead guilty. And he supplants Capt. Daniel Dusek, the former deputy director of operations for the Navy's 7th Fleet, as the highest-ranking officer to plead guilty. In March, Dusek was sentenced to 46 months in prison and ordered to pay $30,000 in restitution and a $70,000 fine.

Francis and two other executives from the Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia have pleaded guilty in the case; one of them, Alex Wisidagama was sentenced in March to 63 months in prison and payment of $34.8 million in restitution to the Navy.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.

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