‘Fat Leonard’ — central figure in U.S. Navy corruption case — breaks silence on surprise podcast

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For the past several years, Leonard Glenn Francis – the figure at the center of the Navy’s worst corruption scandal in modern history – has been under house arrest in San Diego, skipping interview requests and spending his time until his role as a government aide is terminated. Used to be.

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Now, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Francis has opened the floodgates.

He secretly recorded a podcast with a Singaporean journalist, offering his own account publicly for the first time, which shook the Navy, leading to dozens of military officers being prosecuted and hundreds under investigation. placed in.

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NS nine-part podcast, which started releasing episodes on October 4, came as a shock to many involved in the ongoing case. It has also kept lawyers on edge with a blockbuster criminal trial six naval officers in San Diego — and Francis’ anticipated debut on the stand as a star witness for the prosecution — just a few months away. (A lawyer indicated in court last week that a seventh officer would plead guilty before trial.)

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On Thursday, the San Diego federal judge overseeing the case authorized the defense team to summon New York-based podcast production company Audition for all recordings from the project. Audition, which partnered with Project Brazen and PRX on the podcast, did not respond to the Union-Tribune’s request for comment.

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With the final episode airing this week and the trial, defense attorneys for Navy officers declined to comment on the podcast or any statements made by Francis, who Found guilty in 2015 and has not yet been sentenced. The US Attorney’s Office also declined to comment.

It is not clear how this latest development could reshape the matter.

The podcast, titled “Fat Leonard,” echoes Francis’ imposing physique and a long-standing nickname in military circles in the ports of Southeast Asia.

This partly turned out to be a familiar set of facts, detailing how Francis made lavish gifts to Navy officers, five-star resort stays, in exchange for confidential military information, in order to gain a competitive edge for his business. Bribe with delicious dinners and the services of prostitutes, Glen Defense Marine Asia. His ship-management company supplied naval ships with security, water, garbage removal and other supplies – services for which he often billed more. He has admitted to defrauding the Navy for at least $35 million.

Indonesian Navy officers salute US Navy ship Blue Ridge as it prepares to dock at Tanjung Prok Port in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2019. Leonard Francis primarily targeted key members of the US Seventh Fleet for his bribery scheme.
(Dita Alangkara / The Associated Press)

For those who have been closely following the ongoing legal saga, the podcast offers some new revelations, including that Francis kept sex videotapes of Navy officers with prostitutes, that he was under house arrest with his three Malaysian children. , and Chinese spies may have hacked into his store of secrets just before his arrest.

In recorded interviews with former Wall Street Journal reporter Tom Wright, Francis at times exudes charisma and command that gave him access to top Navy officers, as well as street credit that earned him the respect of the lower ranks. did. At other times during the podcast, Francis’ voice is hoarse and a little hardworking, alluding to the battle with cancer he is fighting.

He inexplicably justifies the sex tapes he claims are still in storage: “I’m not making porn. It’s always nice to see people see what they are capable of when they are drunk. … I put it more for fun.”

He is Navy 7. but brags about the command held as a civilianth Fleet: “Everyone was in my pocket. I took them in my hand and turned them around.”

And he complains about being chosen as the story’s villain: “I’ve done so much over the past 30 years, supporting hundreds of ships, hundreds of thousands of sailors and marines in all kinds of locations. I’ve been to the United States.” I was never hurting anyone. It was just a financial matter. It was not me hurting anybody.”

Francis didn’t offer one thing in the podcast: regrets.

decide to talk

Since Francis’ arrest in a San Diego hotel room in 2013, several media outlets have asked for interviews — including the Union-Tribune — and have refused.

But Francis apparently started shopping around last year for someone to tell the story of his life.

Wright and another former Wall Street Journal colleague, Bradley Hope, recently wrote the book “Billion Dollar Whale” about a massive fraud against the Malaysian government, and the reporting partner was working with his new journalism studio and production company, Project. Was looking for a project. shameless.

A source in the book who also knew Francis offered to put Wright in touch.

“I can’t believe Leonard spoke to his lawyers about his decision to talk to me,” Wright said in a recent interview with the Union-Tribune from his home in Singapore.

The podcast claims that Francis was forbidden from speaking as part of his plea agreement. However, nothing in the petition document publicly filed in court prevents him from speaking to the media or talking about the case in general.

Francis’ San Diego-based defense attorney, Devin Burstein, declined to answer multiple questions raised by the Union-Tribune, citing attorney-client privilege and the ongoing case. But he confirmed that Francis’ decision to participate in the podcast had “no effect on his plea agreement.”

Even now, Wright said Francis’ motivation for speaking out remains somewhat of a mystery, given the pending trial and the uncertainty of his sentence. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

“Maybe it’s megalomania, or partly boredom,” Wright said. “I think he’s trying to drop a neutron bomb on the Navy.”

If Francis had been in federal lockup it would have been extremely impossible to shut down the podcast. Phone usage is iffy depending on the detention center, and audio quality would have been poor for a podcast anyway. The question of in-person visits does not arise during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Francis was initially taken into custody following his arrest, when a judge found him to be a flight risk, but was later released on medical furlough as his health declined.

He lives in an apartment at an undisclosed location and is monitored by a GPS bracelet. Burstein said Francis is living “under very strict conditions approved by the court,” but declined to provide specifics that are spelled out in the sealed court filing.

To prepare Francis for the podcast, the production team sent a high-quality microphone to a man who supplied Francis. With a makeshift studio, Wright and Francis spent hours talking long distance on the podcasting app from February to September.

‘I’m not a bad guy’

Francis often alternates between bragging storytelling and insisting that the Navy is ultimately guilty of unauthorized sanctioning of a corrupt system.

Through his interviews, Francis portrays himself as a scapegoat betrayed by the Navy – an institution that has long relied on local contractors like him to be a buffer in foreign ports and get the job done. , even if the means are less than likeable.

They argue that bribery and corruption are just part of the game and everyone knows it.

“It’s a big risk for me to do what I’m doing,” Francis tells Wright of his decision to do the podcast. “But I’m so upset that I get portrayed as the bad guy when I’m not the bad guy. I’ve done everything they wanted me to do.”

The podcast, which ties in with interviews with Navy whistleblowers, addresses the Navy’s reluctance to rein in Francis despite several red flags, as well as the continuing rise among ranks following the Telehook sexual misconduct scandal. To correct the culture of misunderstanding. in the early 1990s.

Former Naval Commander.  Michael Missiewicz lying on his back in a boxing ring
Former Naval Commander. Michael Missiewicz, center, during “Fight Night” at a Manila nightclub in a photo presented as part of a federal court exhibit. Misiewicz was among the Navy officers who pleaded guilty to the “Fat Leonard” scandal and were treated to wild nights by contractor Leonard Francis.
(US District Court, Southern District of California)

The podcast also looks at and indicates the results of the current investigation high ranking officer who were not disciplined – and even promoted Despite Francis’ claims of bribing him. Many of those accused officers have denied any inappropriate interactions with Francis or his company.

A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the podcast, citing the ongoing case.

While Francis insists that he remain loyal to the United States, Wright suggested the national security threat of a foreign contractor compromising so many military personnel was more than publicly acknowledged.

Francis admitted that he was in love with Chinese and Russian diplomats in Singapore. And later, as soon as Francis learned of the US investigation, he transferred his files – records that potentially contained US military secrets – to a Chinese server. That server was hacked by the Chinese government, according to Wright, the final episode of the podcast will report.

sour relationships

Wright said that he, like many people who had interacted with Francis before him, was influenced by the first big personality. But the journalist also struck a nerve as he continued digging into Francis’ personal life and questioned his views on women.

The period between the host and the interviewer takes a sharp turn in Episode 6, as Wright accuses Francis of being an anti-woman.

In the episode, Wright interviews one of the Francis…

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