The Navy announced Tuesday that it has censured three admirals for ethics violations as part of a historic corruption scandal that has already tarred several other high-ranking officers and is threatening to spread further through the ranks.
Navy officials said the three admirals improperly accepted “extravagant dinners” and other gifts from Leonard Glenn Francis, a Malaysian defense contractor who made a fortune by supplying Navy vessels at Asian ports until his arrest in 2013.
The three officers — Rear Adm. Michael Miller, Rear Adm. Terry Kraft and Rear Adm. David Pimpo — were sanctioned for misconduct committed in 2006 and 2007, when they were assigned to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike group.
The admirals’ actions surfaced during a long-running federal bribery investigation into Francis’s company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia. Prosecutors with the Justice Department decided not to press criminal charges against the three admirals but referred the cases to the Navy for further review.
Francis, known as “Fat Leonard” in Navy circles for his girth, pleaded guilty in federal court last month and could face up to 25 years in prison. He admitted to bribing “scores” of Navy officials with prostitutes, envelopes stuffed with cash, luxury travel and other enticements in exchange for classified information that he used to cinch federal contracts.
Five current and former Navy officials have also pleaded guilty in the case; two others are facing federal criminal charges. Prosecutors say more indictments are likely, especially now that Francis has agreed to cooperate with investigators.
The Navy has said it expects to mete out discipline in the coming months to still more officers whose misconduct was not criminal in nature but who may have violated ethics rules.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus issued letters of censure to the three admirals this week after a four-star admiral, John Richardson, spent months reviewing the cases and recommended that they be disciplined.
“All Navy officers, particularly our senior leadership in positions of unique trust and responsibility, must uphold and be held to the highest standards of personal and professional behavior,” Mabus said in a statement. He criticized the admirals for “poor judgment and a failure of leadership.”
The censures will effectively end the careers of all three officers and leave a stain on their record.
The Navy said each of the admirals will retire. First, however, each must face a review to determine whether they should be stripped of their stars and forced to retire at a lower rank with a lesser pension.
Miller had previously sought to retire in July after completing a four-year stint as superintendent of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, but his retirement was delayed until the investigation could be completed.
Kraft will be relieved from his current job as commander of U.S. Naval Forces Japan, while Pimpo will be replaced as a commander with the Naval Supply Systems Command.
None of the admirals responded Tuesday to requests for comment placed through the Navy.
Pimpo has run afoul of ethics rules before. In June 2013, the Naval Inspector General found that he and two other admirals violated federal travel regulations by staying at London hotels that cost more than $400 a night and booking unnecessarily expensive flights.
Rear Adm. Dawn Cutler, the Navy’s chief spokeswoman, said each of the admirals accepted at least three “extravagant dinners” from Francis, despite rules that generally prohibit Navy officials from accepting gifts or other things of value from defense contractors.
Some of the admirals also accepted ship models from Francis, she said. Two were found to have given improper commercial endorsements to Francis’s firm.
Navy officials provided few other details about the nature of the ethics violations.
In his plea agreement last month, Francis admitted to sparing no expense in wining and dining “scores” of Navy officials in general, saying that he lavished them with a total of $500,000 in cash, prostitutes on call, spa treatments and luxury hotel stays. For meals, he regularly offered up Cuban cigars, Kobe beef and Spanish suckling pigs.
The investigation has steadily escalated into the biggest corruption case in the Navy’s history, with Francis admitting that he bilked the service out of tens of millions of dollars by overcharging for food, fuel and basic services.
The most severe impact may turn out to be the blow to the Navy’s reputation, given the array of evidence that so many officers were corrupted so easily by a foreign defense contractor.
Navy officials said Tuesday that at least two other admirals — Vice Adm. Ted Branch, the chief of naval intelligence, and Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, the director of intelligence operations — remain under scrutiny in the case.
Neither has been charged, but their access to classified information was suspended in late 2013, severely curtailing their ability to carry out their sensitive duties as intelligence officers.