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A Jury convicts 4 former Navy officers in 'Fat Leonard' bribery trial

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

A federal jury has convicted more officers in the largest corruption case in the history of the Navy. Steve Walsh with member station KPBS in San Diego reports.

STEVE WALSH, BYLINE: Four former naval officers were convicted for their role in helping Malaysian contractor Leonard Francis defraud the government out of at least $35 million. Rachel VanLandingham is a former Air Force officer who teaches at Southwestern Law in LA.

RACHEL VANLANDINGHAM: That's what this case is really about, is how easily Navy souls were sold, Navy honor were sold for prostitutes, for lavish dinners, for money over American interests.

WALSH: After deliberating for nearly two weeks, the jury deadlocked on whether to convict the fifth officer on trial. Like the others, retired Rear Admiral Bruce Loveless was charged with accepting bribes and conspiracy. Loveless is among the highest-ranking officers to be caught up in the wide-ranging corruption probe which lasted nearly a decade.

VANLANDINGHAM: The military has been the last bastion of our heroes. Oh, they took a couple of gifts. Oh, it's just boys being boys. And in fact, that's part of the insidious nature of the crimes that were ongoing here. They became almost normalized. This is just the way we do business in this part of the world. That's all OK.

WALSH: A generation of officers who served in the Pacific came under scrutiny after Francis was arrested in San Diego in 2013. Loveless was the second admiral charged. Rear Admiral Robert Gilbeau became the first sitting admiral to ever be charged in federal court. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2018. A no-decision in one high-profile case doesn't take away from the enormity of the scandal, VanLandingham says.

VANLANDINGHAM: They were willing to trade away classified information, trade away proprietary information that enabled a foreign contractor to defraud the U.S. government. How can we trust those in the Navy? How can we trust that our national security is actually appropriately being looked after?

WALSH: The man dubbed Fat Leonard because of his size pleaded guilty in 2015 to bribing U.S. Navy officers to help steer ships to his ports in the western Pacific, where he routinely overcharged the Navy. With Wednesday's verdicts, a total of 33 current and former Navy officials have been found guilty or pleaded guilty in what's seen as the largest scandal in Navy history.

For NPR News, I'm Steve Walsh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As a military reporter, Steve Walsh delivers stories and features for TV, radio and the web.

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