Escaped contractor scandal exposes US navy corruption

The scandal opens Pandora’s box regarding the corruption of US naval officers and the field, shedding light on the issue of military contractors which has come up repeatedly in recent years.

  • Leonard Glenn Francis in the gray suit among navy officers (WP)
    Leonard Glenn Francis in the gray suit among navy officers (WP)

Now on the run and suspected to have crossed the US-Mexico border to make his way to Asia,  Leonard Glenn Francis, aka “Fat Leonard”, has violated his house arrest and was due to be sentenced after pleading guilty to a decades-long military contractor fraud scheme.

On account of his weight, Francis merited the name “Fat Leonard”, and was also known in navy circles as “Leonard the Legend”, and with his escape, he left behind mounting work for the US navy, and for the military in general operations, especially overseas. 

The tools of his “persuasive” ways included whiskey, Cuban cigars, Spanish suckling pigs, Kobe beef, and what prosecutors described as a “rotating carousel of prostitutes”, designer handbags, Lady Gaga tickets, Gucci fashion shows and cash, all means to an end: ship husbanding contracts across south-east Asia. Francis boasted a high-profile, was known to ride around Singapore in an armored SUV, wore bespoke suits, and carried a “blowtorch of a cigar lighter”.

The “Fat Leonard” investigation exposed 60 admirals and 550 other US navy officers for accepting bribes. Just days before Francis was due to be sentenced for overcharging the navy $35m, he cut off his GPS tracking ankle bracelet that kept him on house arrest, dropped it in a water cooler, and fled his residence. When US marshals arrived, neighbors said they witnessed U-Haul trucks in front of his house. 

Francis’ company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA), supplied the navies of Britain, France, Mexico, India and the Netherlands, flaunting a fleet of 50 vessels which includes a pirate patrol ship with British-trained Gurkha soldiers from Nepal. To add to his collection, Francis purchased a decommissioned British warship, named the RFA Sir Lancelot but renamed it the Glenn Braveheart, and turned it into a party boat with prostitutes in the wardroom to greet US officers.

Commander Mike Misiewicz pleaded guilty to sharing intel of Singapore-based GDMA information on upcoming ship visits and changing directions of where those visits would be, in exchange for money and favors which led to his prison sentence of 78 months.

Speaking to the Washington Post, a retired navy officer painted a picture of Francis’ doings: “The Soviets couldn’t have penetrated us better than Leonard Francis, he’s got people skills that are off the scale. He can hook you so fast that you don’t see it coming … At one time he had infiltrated the entire leadership line. The KGB could not have done what he did.”

The scandal has opened Pandora’s box regarding the corruption of naval officers and the field, shedding light on the issue of military contractors which has come up repeatedly in recent years, from Halliburton in Iraq to Blackwater in Afghanistan.

The war on Afghanistan and Iraq combined costs more than $2.6 trillion, a gargantuan figure collected from taxpayers’ pockets and debts that the upcoming US generation will have to pay for. The money essentially went to private contractors, weapons manufacturers, and oil companies, chiefly Blackwater, Raytheon, and Halliburton of which Dick Cheney was a CEO.

Jeffrey Addicott, a professor of law and director of the Warrior Defense Project, portrayed Leonard’s escape as “not only an embarrassment to our criminal justice system but another blow to the critical relationship between civilian contractors and the military. We have to trust the contractors to perform these functions, and often we don’t have time to do the paperwork or think the paperwork will catch up later, and that has led to a lot of fraud, waste, and abuse,” adding: “nobody really knows how much money we spent in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

This further highlights the excessive military aid to Ukraine by the US currently amounting to $57bn, which recently has been scrutinized since the arms shipments arriving for the war in Ukraine have been either ending up in the black market, going unrecorded, or getting lost track of. That was followed by the Biden administration authorizing an additional $1.1bn in arms sales to Taiwan, and to their misfortune, the transfer of arms and equipment that typically go through contractors.

Misiewicz told Defense News about the fixer’s central importance: “For us to get a ship to a port, Leonard did our dirty work. That’s the best way, and most blunt way that you could describe that happening.

“Whether it’s through the NCIS, or the embassy, with the host nation police, with the host nation government, the guy was connected and had every in and out on making things happen,” he added. 

The lessons of the scandal may have yet to be learned, and that corruption may just be integrated into the larger objectives of US imperialist tactics and ambitions.