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Trump nominee sunk by ‘Fat Leonard’ corruption scandal

A retired two-star admiral who had been nominated for a senior job in the Trump administration has been torpedoed for his involvement in the “Fat Leonard” corruption scandal, according to Navy officials.

Mark C. Montgomery received a letter of censure from the Navy last week after an investigation concluded he had committed graft and taken illicit gifts from Leonard Glenn Francis, a Singapore-based defense contractor who has admitted to bribing scores of officers.

The investigation concluded that besides accepting gifts, Montgomery also “took action to financially benefit” Francis’s company between 2007 and 2009, when the Navy officer served as the commander of a destroyer squadron based in Asia, according to Cmdr. Jereal Dorsey, a Navy spokesman.

The Navy also determined that Montgomery lied about his connections with Francis when he was questioned by investigators this year, Dorsey said. He declined to provide further details about the admiral’s misconduct.

Known as “Fat Leonard” because of his girth, Francis was the president and chief executive of Glenn Defense Marine Asia, which held more than $200 million worth of contracts to resupply and refuel Navy ships at ports throughout Asia. He pleaded guilty to corruption charges in 2015.

Francis has told investigators that he bribed Navy officials with prostitutes, cash, lavish meals and other gifts in exchange for military secrets and other inside information to benefit his business.

A censure is a formal rebuke that will stain Montgomery’s official military record but not result in a fine or other punishment. Although graft is a crime under military law, the statute of limitations for the offense is ordinarily five years, which would have made it difficult for the Navy to prosecute him.

Montgomery is the sixth admiral to receive a censure in the Fat Leonard scandal; two other admirals have been charged with crimes by the Justice Department.

Montgomery, 54, did not respond Monday to requests for comment. The Navy disclosed news of his censure late Sunday.

The White House had nominated Montgomery in June to become an assistant administrator with the U.S. Agency for International Development. In September, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing to consider his nomination, and he appeared on his way to a speedy confirmation.

On Nov. 15, however, the White House notified the Senate that it had withdrawn Montgomery’s nomination. No explanation was given publicly. The White House press office did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment.

It is unclear when the White House became aware that Montgomery was under scrutiny. He is one of hundreds of officers who have come under investigation by the Navy and the Justice Department since Francis was arrested and charged with bribery and fraud in 2013.

Seventeen Navy officials have pleaded guilty in federal court to corruption-related offenses. Federal charges are pending against 11 others.

In addition, the Navy has court-martialed five other sailors under military law.

Montgomery retired from the Navy in October 2017 after serving as director of operations for U.S. Pacific Command, a key job overseeing all military operations in Asia.

He then worked for a year as policy director for the Senate Armed Services Committee. At his nomination hearing, Montgomery said he was personally recruited to take that job by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who served as the committee chairman until his death in August.

The committee provides direct oversight of the Navy. In that role, the committee staff has received confidential briefings from Navy officials about senior officers swept up in the Glenn Defense scandal.

Navy officials did not respond to a question about whether or when the committee had been notified that Montgomery was under investigation.

The committee is now led by Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.). His spokeswoman, Leacy Burke, declined to comment except to note that Montgomery no longer works for the panel. Montgomery left his job there in September when Inhofe took charge.