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Military contractor pleads guilty in ‘Fat Leonard’ bribery scandal

The battleship Blue Ridge, the flagship of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet, docks at Manila South Harbor in the Philippines.
(Bullit Marquez / Associated Press)

A former contracting official with the Navy who took hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from Malaysian businessman Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy and bribery charges.

Paul Simpkins, 62, admitted accepting cash and other gifts from Francis — the owner of Glenn Defense Marine Asia, a Singapore-based contractor that performed ship servicing work for Navy vessels in ports across southeast Asia.

Francis is at the center of a scheme in which he bribed officers and civilians in exchange for help getting Navy ships assigned to call at ports he controlled. He then would over-bill the Navy for services such as sewage disposal, ship protection and ground transport.

Francis has pleaded guilty and will have to pay $35 million in restitution — an estimate of the loss to the military.

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Simpkins, the highest-ranking civilian charged in the scandal, had enormous power over how Navy contracts were administered, said Lawrence Brennan, a retired Navy captain and adjunct professor at Fordham Law School.

“The contracting officer … has the power of the pen, he’s the chancellor of the exchequer,: Brennan said. “He’s the guy who actually has the ability to make decisions on the finances.”

Simpkins was able to steer contracts toward Glenn Defense, intervene for the company when it had disputes with the Navy and even work to get other contractors who were competitors suspended.

In early 2006, he recommended Francis’ company get a contract for services for ports in Thailand, the plea agreement said — a deal worth $7.1 million.

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Before making the recommendation, Simpkins and Francis met multiple times at a hotel in Singapore, where they discussed bribes that eventually were paid by wire transfers from Glenn Defense to a bank account controlled by Simpkins’ former wife.

The plea agreement said Simpkins received at least $300,000 in bribes from Francis between 2006 and 2012. The deal requires him to pay $450,000 in restitution to the Navy.

So far, 14 people have been criminally charged in the probe and 11 have pleaded guilty. Scores of other Navy personnel are under internal scrutiny over their relationship with Francis.

greg.moran@sduniontribune.com

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Moran writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune


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