Criminal convictions of four naval officers overturned in widespread ‘Fat Leonard’ bribery scandal

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The criminal convictions of four Navy officers in one of the worst bribery cases in maritime industry history were overturned Wednesday on prosecutorial misconduct involving a defense contractor nicknamed Fat Leonard.

US District Judge Janis Sammartino called the misconduct “outrageous” and agreed to allow the four men to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and pay a $100 fine each.

The surprising turn of events came at a sentencing hearing in federal court in San Diego for the former officers.

Assistant US Attorney Peter Ko, who was hired after the officers’ trial last year, admitted “serious problems” with prosecutorial misconduct and urged the judge to overturn the men’s convictions.

He said his office does not agree with all allegations of misconduct, but that some are true.

“There were obviously serious issues that affected our ability to continue,” Ko told the judge when defending the convictions or seeking a new trial.

The officers – former captains. David Newland, James Dolan and David Lausman, and former Cmdr. Mario Herrera – was previously convicted by a federal jury on separate counts of accepting bribes from foreign defense contractor Leonard Francis, who admitted to bilking the Navy out of more than $35 million by offending dozens of senior officers with alcohol, sex and Waste bought parties and other gifts.

The four men pleaded guilty to destroying government property on Wednesday, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Defense attorneys had long accused prosecutors of lying to the court and unfairly pressuring witnesses to testify on a screenplay.

Francis escaped from house arrest in San Diego nearly a year ago, which was also considered a misstep by prosecutors for allowing him not to be held behind bars. He was later captured in Venezuela, where he still resides.

More than two dozen naval officials, defense contractors and others have been convicted on various fraud and corruption charges in the year-long case. It was initially not clear whether Wednesday’s developments could endanger the other convictions.

A decade ago, Francis was arrested as part of a federal investigation at a San Diego hotel. Investigators say he and his company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, bribed officials so he could inflate prices for delivering ships or charge for bogus services at ports he controlled in Southeast Asia.

The case, which revealed salacious details about military personnel cheating on their wives and seeking prostitutes, embarrassed the Pentagon. The US Attorney’s office was responsible for prosecution and offered independence from the military justice system.

The US Attorney’s Office in San Diego did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Associated Press also left messages for lead prosecutor Mark Pletcher and two other prosecutors involved in the case.

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