The evening after Christmas 2004 was a night to remember for more than 50 U.S. Navy officers from the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group. During a port visit to Hong Kong, they were invited to a free feast on the 56th floor of a luxury hotel, where they savored cocktails, cigars and courses of Oscietra caviar, black truffles and lobster thermidor.
Mingling with the guests were attractive young women dressed as Santa’s little helpers, wearing red hats, black boots and skimpy yuletide costumes. Smiling at the center of the party was the host, Leonard Glenn Francis, a defense contractor who has since confessed to bribing scores of Navy officers in the worst corruption scandal in Navy history.
Among those in attendance, records show, was Craig S. Faller, a Navy officer who has climbed the ranks at the Pentagon to become a vice admiral and the senior military assistant to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Last month, the White House nominated Faller for a fourth star and to lead the U.S. Southern Command, responsible for military operations in Central and South America. His confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled for Tuesday.
The Pentagon has never publicly disclosed that Faller was under investigation for more than three years by the Justice Department and the Navy for his interactions with Francis, a Singapore-based maritime tycoon known as Fat Leonard. The admiral was ultimately cleared of wrongdoing.
Francis, who has pleaded guilty to fraud and bribery charges and is cooperating with the Justice Department, told investigators he paid for a prostitute to entertain Faller after the Christmas 2004 party in Hong Kong, according to internal Navy documents obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act and individuals familiar with the case.
The Navy redacted Faller’s name from the documents, but other details in the records match his military service history. Pentagon officials speaking on the condition of anonymity confirmed that Faller was the subject of the investigation.
Francis also told federal authorities that he gave Faller an ornamental Malaysian sword and another gift, and bought him two dinners in Kuala Lumpur in 2011, the documents show.
Last year, the Justice Department decided not to prosecute Faller but passed the case to the Navy to determine if the admiral had violated military law or ethics rules, according to documents and Navy officials familiar with the case. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment.
In March, the Navy concluded that Faller had not committed misconduct, the documents show. Although Navy officials confirmed Faller had accepted three dinners from Francis, they excused his actions. A full explanation for the decision was redacted from the documents.
The Navy also found “insufficient evidence” that Faller had patronized a prostitute or accepted the sword, the documents show.
With the investigations complete, the Pentagon put Faller on a fast track for advancement. In April, he was picked to become a three-star admiral. In August, he was selected for promotion again and nominated to receive a fourth star.
Faller did not respond to a list of detailed questions. In a statement, Dana White, the Pentagon’s chief spokeswoman, said Faller “never solicited a gift, dinner, service or item from [Francis’s company] and never attended an event without clearance from an ethics counselor.”
Mattis chose Faller as his senior military assistant when he became defense secretary in January 2017. Faller also worked for Mattis, a retired Marine general, from 2012 to 2014 when Mattis served as head of U.S. Central Command and Faller was chief operations officer, overseeing wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
In a statement to The Post, Mattis called Faller “an exceptional naval officer and respected military leader. I have selected him twice to serve alongside me. . . . Over many decades he has served with distinction. I recommended him to the President for this promotion because he has my full faith and confidence and is the right person for this position of trust. I firmly and resolutely support his nomination.”
Faller is one of about 60 admirals who have come under investigation for their ties to Francis. His firm, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, held contracts worth $250 million to resupply Navy vessels in Asia before he was arrested in 2013.
Francis has told federal authorities that he wined and dined hundreds of Navy officers over two decades and supplied many of them with prostitutes.
Faller is one of three admirals who attended the Hong Kong dinner in 2004, according to photographs and people who were present.
Billed as a “Christmas Cheer” celebration, the seven-course meal was served at Petrus, a swanky French restaurant in the Shangri-La Hotel with panoramic views of Victoria Harbor, according to copies of the dinner menu and official invitation obtained by The Post.
Ethics rules prohibit military personnel from accepting gifts worth more than $20 from contractors. Although it is unknown how much Francis paid for the event, records from other cases show he often spent more than $1,000 per person to entertain U.S. officers at Michelin-starred restaurants
David Meyers, a retired Navy captain who served as the supply officer of the Abraham Lincoln, said he strongly advised his superiors to avoid the 2004 dinner.
In an interview, Meyers said he warned the Abraham Lincoln’s commanding officer, then-Capt. Kendall Card, and its executive officer, Capt. David Lausman, that it would be a conflict of interest. As head of the supply department, Meyers was responsible for paying Francis’s firm to refuel and service the ship while it was in port.
“I said, ‘all his profits are coming from overcharging us for services,’ ” recalled Meyers, who refused to attend the dinner and also barred the supply staff from going.
“My personal reaction was they were setting themselves up for potential trouble,” Meyers added, referring to the ship’s commanders. “When they said they were going to go, I’m thinking, ‘You’re the captain of this ship and you’ve had more ethical training to me, but this seems like a no-brainer.’ ”
Card retired from the Navy in 2013 as a three-star admiral. He did not respond to several messages seeking comment.
Lausman was indicted last year on charges of taking bribes from Francis. He has pleaded not guilty. His attorney declined to comment. An attorney for Francis also declined to comment.
The third admiral to attend the Christmas Cheer celebration was W. Douglas Crowder, the Abraham Lincoln strike group commander.
Now retired, Crowder said he asked Navy lawyers to review the invitation beforehand “to see if it passed the smell test” and was told it was permissible to attend. As a result, Crowder said he gave the green light to his officers to go. He said nothing untoward happened during the dinner.
“I had an official ethics finding,” he said. “No one in my strike group went except for the fact that their boss said it was okay. . . . The only reason Craig Faller went to that event is because I said it was okay.”
At the time, Faller was a captain and commanding officer of the USS Shiloh, a guided-missile cruiser that was part of the strike group. Crowder recalled leaving the dinner with Faller and a few other officers. “He walked out with me,” Crowder said.