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Navy commander sentenced in ‘Fat Leonard’ bribery case

SAN DIEGO — A retired U.S. Navy commander was sentenced Friday to 18 months in prison for trying to impede an investigation into a massive, decade-long fraud scheme centering on an array of bribes exchanged for classified and internal military information.

Retired Navy Cmdr. Bobby Pitts, 48, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States, admitting that he attempted to protect defense contractor Leonard Glenn Francis from allegations of wrongdoing.

Francis, whose ample frame earned him the nickname “Fat Leonard,” presided over a scheme involving scores of U.S. Navy officials and millions of dollars in bribes and improper gifts, according to prosecutors.

Those corrupt incentives ranged from cash, prostitutes’ services and luxury travel to Cuban cigars, Kobe beef and Spanish suckling pigs, court documents state.

Francis, owner and chief executive of Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia, pleaded guilty in 2015 to bribery and fraud charges and is awaiting sentencing.

While announcing Pitts’ sentence Friday, U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino told him he had “betrayed the Navy and betrayed the country.”

According to admissions made as part of his plea agreement, Pitts, a resident of Chesapeake, Virginia, served as officer in charge of the Navy’s Fleet Industrial Supply Command in Singapore from August 2009 to May 2011.

While heading the command, Pitts was responsible for overseeing the legal and ethical execution of the Navy’s ship-husbanding contracts in the Pacific, including those held by Francis.

Pitts learned in 2009 that Naval Criminal Investigative Service and several civilian employees of the U.S. Navy were investigating whether Francis was overbilling the U.S. Navy, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego.

Through his post, Pitts had access to internal documents pertaining to investigative steps that the Navy was considering and shared the information with Francis, with the intent of impeding and obstructing the Navy’s oversight of its contracts with GDMA, prosecutors alleged.

In November 2010, for example, Pitts forwarded to a representative of Francis’ company an internal U.S. Navy email discussing FISC’s intention to contact officials with the Royal Thai Navy to determine whether GDMA had been billing the U.S. Navy for force-protection services actually provided by the Thai government.

“Pitts deliberately and methodically undermined government operations, and in doing so diverted his allegiance from his country and colleagues to a foreign defense contractor, and for that, he is paying a high price,” U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said.

In addition to handing down the 1 1/2-year custody term, Sammartino ordered Pitts to pay a $15,000 fine and $7,500 in restitution.

Among 28 defendants charged in connection with in the scandal, 19 have pleaded guilty.