American Navy's floating Asian HQ breached with feasts and sex parties
Washington: "As the flagship for the Navy's 7th Fleet, the USS Blue Ridge plays a critical role in national security by overseeing all U.S. maritime operations in Asia and the western Pacific. The venerable warship is the Navy's second-oldest active-duty vessel and has survived the Vietnam War, the Cold War and tensions with China and North Korea.
But there is one foreign threat against which the Blue Ridge proved utterly defenseless for many years: a 6-foot-3, 350-pound tugboat owner known as "Fat Leonard."
In a case that ranks as the worst corruption scandal in US Navy history, the Justice Department has charged 15 officers and one enlisted sailor who served on the Blue Ridge with taking bribes from or lying about their ties to Leonard Glenn Francis, a Singapore-based tycoon who held lucrative contracts to service Navy ships and submarines in Asian ports, according to Washington Post.
"For the better part of a decade, as part of a massive scam to defraud the Navy, Francis systematically infiltrated the Blue Ridge to a degree that is only now coming into focus, more than four years after the defense contractor's arrest, according to the documents from federal court and the Navy, as well as interviews with Navy officials and associates of Francis."
"Prosecutors say nine sailors from the 7th Fleet flagship leaked classified information about ship movements and other secrets to Francis, a Malaysian citizen, making the Blue Ridge perhaps the most widely compromised U.S. military headquarters of the modern era." "The Navy is investigating dozens of others who served on the ship, which is based in Japan, for possible violations of military law or ethics rules, according to documents and interviews."
"Between 2006 and 2013, Francis doled out illicit gifts, hosted epicurean feasts and sponsored sex parties for Blue Ridge personnel on at least 45 occasions, according to federal court records and Navy documents obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act."
"Officers from the Blue Ridge consumed or pocketed about $1 million in gourmet meals, liquor, cash, vacations, airline tickets, tailored suits, Cuban cigars, luxury watches, cases of beef, designer handbags, antique furniture and concert tickets - and reveled in the attention of an armada of prostitutes, records show."
"Although Francis offered bribes and freebies to hundreds of Navy personnel assigned to other U.S. warships, bases and embassies in Asia starting in the early 1990s, the Blue Ridge was his primary target."
"Staff officers on the Blue Ridge had the clout to intervene on behalf of Francis's company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, because they managed operations, logistics and intelligence for the entire 7th Fleet. Of paramount importance to Francis was the officers' access to the classified itineraries of all U.S. ships and submarines transiting the region."
"A master recruiter, Francis methodically assembled a network of informants to feed him the secret itineraries, court documents show. Wielding remarkable influence for a foreigner, he then prodded his moles on the Blue Ridge to reroute aircraft carriers and other vessels to ports controlled by his firm so he could more easily overcharge the Navy for fuel, other supplies and services."
"Francis, 53, has pleaded guilty to bribery and defrauding the military of $35 million, although some officials think the monetary losses sustained by the Navy are far greater. He has been in jail in San Diego since his arrest in 2013 and is cooperating with authorities as he awaits sentencing. One of his attorneys, Ethan Posner, declined to comment."
"The case has snowballed into an epic embarrassment for the Navy, which has struggled to explain how so many officers on the Blue Ridge succumbed so easily to the prostitutes, extravagant meals and expensive gifts that Francis dangled as temptations."
"It also has raised questions about the extent to which admirals in the 7th Fleet and the rest of the Navy knew of what was happening under their command but did not intervene."
"More than 60 admirals have come under investigation by the Justice Department and the Navy for their interactions with Francis and his company. Two admirals have been charged in federal court and six others have been censured or disciplined by the Navy. Authorities have publicly identified only a handful of the others so far."
"Cmdr. Mike Kafka, a Navy spokesman, said the service takes the ongoing criminal investigation "very seriously" and that it is working closely with the Justice Department to hold Navy personnel accountable."
"The criminal activity of Leonard Francis has changed how we conduct our . . . contracting services worldwide," Kafka said in an email. "It is evident that Leonard Francis specifically targeted personnel from the USS Blue Ridge, the flag ship for the Seventh Fleet, due to that staff's ability to impact other ship schedules and port visit locations."
"The Navy advertises the 634-foot-long Blue Ridge, named after a range in the Appalachian Mountains, as the most capable command ship ever built. It was commissioned in 1970. Among the Navy's active-duty vessels, only the wooden-hulled USS Constitution, which was launched in 1797 and is preserved as a museum, is older.