It’s been four years since federal authorities made their first arrests in the worst corruption scandal in Navy history, but the criminal investigation shows no sign of ending anytime soon.
On Friday, Jesus V. Cantu, 59, a retired Navy captain and Stanford graduate, pleaded guilty in federal court in San Diego to conspiracy to commit bribery. In his plea agreement, he admitted to accepting expensive hotel rooms, fancy dinners and the services of prostitutes from Leonard Glenn Francis, a charismatic Asian defense contractor who did hundreds of millions of dollars of business with the Navy.
Cantu, of Silverdale, Wash., had not surfaced previously as part of the epic corruption case. He is the 19th defendant to be convicted. Federal prosecutors have charged 10 others whose cases are pending. Another defendant is facing charges in Singapore.
According to his plea agreement, Cantu began conspiring to commit bribery with Francis — known as “Fat Leonard” in Navy circles — in 2007 when Cantu was the assistant chief of staff for logistics for the Navy’s 7th Fleet, based in Asia.
Cantu admitted taking bribes and the services of prostitutes from Francis until 2013, when he was serving as deputy commander of the Military Sealift Command’s Far East division in Singapore.
According to the plea agreement, Cantu’s final escapade with Francis occurred on Sept. 13, 2013, when they went to dinner in Singapore and partied with prostitutes at Francis’s expense. Three days later, Francis was lured by federal authorities to San Diego and arrested in a sting operation after a years-long investigation into his company.
Cantu was questioned at the time by a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent about his contacts with Francis and gave “materially false” responses, the plea agreement states. He retired from the Navy the following year.
The number of people entwined in the scandal has escalated steadily since 2015, when Francis pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy to defraud the United States and agreed to cooperate with federal authorities.
In court papers, Francis admitted to bribing scores of Navy officials with millions of dollars so they would leak him classified and confidential information about Navy operations. He then exploited the inside information to rig contracts and gouge the federal government as his firm, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, resupplied Navy vessels in Asian ports.
In addition to the 28 defendants in federal court, the Navy has opened separate investigations under military law into more than 250 active-duty and retired personnel who had contact with Francis dating to the 1990s.
Most of those investigations have occurred behind closed doors; the Navy has made its findings public in only a handful of cases.