Judge Throws Out Felony Convictions of Five Retired Military Officers in US Navy Bribery Case

A federal judge threw out the felony convictions of five retired military officers who had admitted to accepting bribes from a Malaysian contractor nicknamed “Fat Leonard” in one of the Navy’s largest corruption cases.

SAN DIEGO – A federal judge on Tuesday threw out the felony convictions of five retired military officers who had admitted to accepting bribes from a Malaysian contractor nicknamed “Fat Leonard” in one of the Navy’s largest corruption cases.

The dismissals occurred at the request of the government, not the defense, citing procedural errors.

Retired U.S. Navy officers Donald Hornbeck, Robert Gorsuch and José Luis Sánchez, and U.S. Marine Corps Col. Enrico DeGuzman pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disclosure on Tuesday, while US Navy officer Stephen Shedd’s entire case was dismissed. His defense attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment.

It marked the latest setback to the government’s years-long efforts to pursue dozens of military officials linked to defense contractor Leonard Francis, nicknamed “Fat Leonard.” The enigmatic figure, who stood 6 feet 3 inches and weighed 350 pounds at one point, was owned and operated by Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd., which supplied food, water and fuel to U.S. Navy ships. .

Francisco is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to offering more than $500,000 in cash bribes, along with other gifts and wild sex parties in Southeast Asia, to Navy officials, defense contractors and others. The scheme allowed him to defraud the maritime service of at least $35 million by having commanders reroute ships to ports he controlled and overcharging for the services, according to prosecutors. He was arrested in 2013 in an undercover operation in San Diego.

Prosecutors said in legal documents outlining their Tuesday dismissal request that the action does not mean that the defendants did not commit the crimes charged, but rather that because information was withheld from the defense and other errors were made, they wanted to ensure that justice was done fairly.

In 2022, U.S. District Court Judge Janis Sammartino ruled that the former top federal prosecutor committed “egregious misconduct” by withholding information from defense attorneys. In September, the felony convictions of four former Navy officers were also overturned. The four men pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and agreed to pay a fine of $100 each.

The dismissals made by Sammartino on Tuesday come weeks before Francisco returns to court to set his sentencing date.

Francis returned to the United States late last year after a daring escape from house arrest in San Diego in 2022, weeks before his original sentencing hearing. He was subsequently captured in Venezuela, which extradited him to the United States as part of a prisoner exchange.

Some also saw the escape as a misstep by the prosecution in allowing him not to be behind bars.