Former Navy Official Becomes 11th Person To Plead Guilty in ‘Fat Leonard’ Bribery Scandal

(The Washington Post) -

A retired Navy contracting official admitted Thursday in federal court that he took more than $300,000 in bribes from a Singapore company that resupplied U.S. warships in Asia, making him the 11th person to plead guilty in what is emerging as the biggest corruption scandal in the Navy’s history.

Paul Simpkins, 62, an Air Force veteran who worked as a civilian contracting official for two decades for the Pentagon and the Justice Department, pleaded guilty to two bribery-related charges in U.S. District Court in San Diego. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 9. His attorney has stated previously in court that he faces a likely prison term of between six and seven years.

According to federal investigators, Simpkins was working as a supervisor for the Navy’s regional contracting office in Singapore in 2006 when he held a series of surreptitious meetings in a hotel bar with Leonard Glenn Francis, the owner of a local maritime firm that provided food, fuel, water, security and other port services to Navy ships.

Francis, a charismatic figure known in Navy circles as “Fat Leonard,” wanted to cheat to obtain Navy contracts in Thailand and the Philippines for his firm, Glenn Defense Marine Asia. He offered Simpkins $50,000 to rig the bidding, according to an indictment filed in the case.

Although Simpkins was willing, he demanded a higher price and ultimately received $450,000 in cash and payments wired to a foreign bank account controlled by his wife, prosecutors have alleged. In addition, he agreed to serve as a secret fixer for Glenn Defense in other matters, intervening on Francis’s behalf when other Navy officials raised red flags about his company’s excessive billing practices.

According to terms of his plea agreement with prosecutors, Simpkins has agreed to pay back $450,000 to the Navy. The Justice Department has already seized $150,000 from a credit union account held by Simpkins, who lives in Haymarket, Virginia, court records show.

Francis, who pleaded guilty in the case last year, has admitted to bribing “scores” of Navy officials over a decade as his firm won contracts from the Navy worth more than $250 million.

A federal prosecutor said last year that 200 individuals were under investigation. Of those, about 30 are admirals, Navy officials have said.

Fourteen people have been charged so far in federal court, all but three of whom have pleaded guilty. Justice Department officials have said more arrests are likely. Another Navy contracting official who worked in the same office with Simpkins has been arrested in Singapore and faces corruption charges there.

Simpkins was arrested in Virginia in February 2015 and spent nearly a year in jail before he was able to post bail. Prosecutors and his defense attorney, John Lemon, had previously signaled in court that he was likely to plead guilty. Lemon did not respond to emails seeking comment.

In a hearing in January, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Pletcher noted that a trial would bring to light all sorts of disreputable evidence. “All of this is incredibly embarrassing, personally difficult testimony which suggests an unlikelihood that a defendant would want those things publicly aired at trial,” Pletcher said.