US Navy commander pleads guilty in ‘Fat Leonard’ bribery case

An active-duty U.S. Navy commander accused of trying to obstruct a federal criminal investigation into a massive US Navy bribery scandal pleaded guilty in San Diego federal court on August 15.

Bobby Pitts, 48, of Chesapeake, Va., pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the US for his involvement in a corruption scheme in which a foreign contractor, ship-husbanding company Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA), cheated the US Navy out of millions of dollars with the help of navy officials.

According to admissions made as part of his plea agreement, from August 2009 to May 2011, Pitts served as the officer in charge of the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Industrial Supply Command (FISC) in Singapore.

As part of his duties, Pitts learned that NCIS and several civilian employees of the U.S. Navy were investigating whether Francis was over-billing the U.S. Navy on ship husbanding contracts. Pitts had access to internal U.S. Navy documents pertaining to investigative steps that the U.S. Navy was considering and admitted that he shared this information with Francis, with the intent to impede and obstruct the U.S. Navy’s oversight of its contracts with GDMA.

On Nov. 23, 2010, for example, Pitts forwarded to a representative of GDMA 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 services in fact rendered by the Thai government.

In pleading guilty, Pitts admitted, among other things, to working with Francis and other foreign-defense-contractor personnel to help them cover up GDMA’s overcharging practices with respect to providing protection to U.S. Navy forces deployed in the Western Pacific.

The Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) bribery case, also referred to as the “Fat Leonard” case after the nickname of GDMA CEO Francis Leonard, is dragging down one U.S. Navy official after another for their roles in disclosing sensitive information about navy operations in exchange for cash, prostitutes, and in one case, Lady Gaga concert tickets.

So far, 18 of 27 defendants charged in the U.S. Navy bribery and fraud scandal have pleaded guilty.

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