California

Ex-NCIS agent gets 12 years in prison in ‘Fat Leonard’ Navy fraud scheme

Then-NCIS agent John Beliveau walks into federal courthouse in San Diego with an attorney in 2013.
Then-NCIS agent John Beliveau walks into federal courthouse in San Diego with an attorney in 2013.
(San Diego Union-Tribune)

At a U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service office in Singapore, agents were ramping up their investigation into overbilling, bribery and fraud by one of Southeast Asia’s most prominent defense contractors.

It would become the largest fraud case in modern Navy history.

As agents submitted status reports on witnesses, wiretaps and other investigative leads into the agency’s internal database, one of their colleagues who sat at a desk nearby secretly began to slip the information to the man at the center of the investigation, “Fat” Leonard Francis.

The betrayal by NCIS supervisory agent John Beliveau II helped Francis stay one step ahead of investigators and continue his massive scheme to defraud the Navy. Until they got caught.

On Friday, Beliveau was sentenced in San Diego federal court to 12 years in prison. He decided it was best to be taken immediately into custody to begin serving his term.

“He sold out his service and sold out his country,” Assistant Chief Brian Young of the U.S. attorney’s office told the judge during the hearing, using the mob term “consigliere” to describe Beliveau as Francis’ close advisor.

“He did horrendous damage to this investigation.”

Besides the prison term, Beliveau, 47, was ordered to pay $20 million in restitution, an amount to be shared by other defendants in the case.

Beliveau was the first in what is now a long line of defendants to plead guilty to taking bribes from Francis in exchange for sensitive information that benefited the contractor and his Glenn Defense Marine Asia company. The investigation also uncovered a nearly $35-million scheme to overbill the Navy for services that the company provided to visiting ships, such as security, supplies and trash removal.

The investigation has taken down 11 current and former Navy officers and employees, as well as five Glenn Defense Marine Asia figures, including Francis. Other high-ranking naval officers have been disciplined over their ties to the contractor, who was known in naval circles for plying overseas military men with prostitutes, booze and posh parties.

Most of the guilty were in similar logistics positions aboard Navy ships, and at Francis’ prompting provided him with ship schedules and other intelligence to help steer Navy contracts his way.

Beliveau’s role was markedly different.

He had been working in Singapore since 2008, part of a team to help keep visiting Navy ships secure in the region. By the time he met Francis, he was recovering from several physical illnesses, recurring bouts of obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder from witnessing a gang member get beheaded in East Timor, and loneliness —  vulnerabilities Francis preyed on, said Beliveau’s defense attorney, Jessica Carmichael.

He was self-medicating with alcohol and prostitutes, and welcomed the attention of the wealthy and charismatic Francis, the lawyer said.

“He needed a friend, and Leonard Francis exploited that. He needed a numbing agent, and Leonard Francis provided those,” Carmichael told the court. “He was weak, lonely, suffering from physical ailments and mental torture, and Francis knew it and he exploited it.”

The bribery started after Francis invited Beliveau to dinner, where the contractor showed him a leaked NCIS report and asked for Beliveau’s thoughts, Carmichael said.

According to sentencing papers, Beliveau said he didn’t report the matter to his superiors, explaining: “I felt attached to him. I told him to clean up his act and that this would minimize this risk. … I should’ve gone right to my boss but was afraid that the drinks and the prostitution would come out. Mainly, I just thought it would all go away, and I believed him when he said that he hadn’t done anything.”

Pretty soon Francis was asking Beliveau to retrieve confidential information on the investigations, and giving the agent more prostitutes, fancy hotel rooms and alcohol as a reward.

Prosecutors say beginning in 2011 Beliveau accessed the NCIS database 14 times looking for the files. In one month alone, he slipped Francis 80 reports.

The leak compromised identities of cooperating witnesses —  including two low-level Glenn Defense Marine Asia employees who’d agreed to secretly record conversations in the office — as well as prompted real-time warnings about covert actions by agents, prosecutors said.

Agents scrambled for damage control after learning of their internal leak and had to create a secret investigation walled off from the network. They posted a false memo in the database — planted for Beliveau — saying the case against Francis was closed.

Francis took the bait and felt comfortable enough to travel to the U.S. for what he thought was a business development meeting with Navy officials in San Diego on Sept. 16, 2013. He was arrested instead.

Beliveau was arrested the same day in Virginia, where he was living after having been promoted to director of the Quantico branch, and agents found what remained of Francis’ bribes: $6,200 in cash.

“Mr. Beliveau’s conduct cast a shadow over NCIS, but that’s being kind. He cast more than a shadow,” U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino said at the sentencing.

“It is difficult to quantify the extent of damage and duration of harm on the agency,” the judge said.

On Friday, Beliveau apologized to the court, his family and his former colleagues — saying his tale was a cautionary one he hoped other law enforcement learned from.

“It is hard to convey the feelings of guilt and remorse, but, upon reflection, I can say that it has made me physically sick when I read about and recall what I did,” he wrote in a letter to the judge. “I also am ashamed for the embarrassment I caused to my former agency and the public trust that was granted to me.”

kristina.davis@sduniontribune.com

Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune

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