Ex-US Navy commander gets 30 months in prison for accepting ‘Fat Leonard’ bribes
- ‘As decorated as you were, it’s hard to fathom why you’d sell out for so little’ judge tells Troy Amundson, who swapped information for sex with prostitutes
In an email arranging to hand over US Navy information to flamboyant contractor Leonard Francis, Navy Commander Troy Amundson described himself as “a small dog just trying to get a bone”.
Later that night, Francis organised several prostitutes from Mongolia for Amundson, prosecutors say, just one in a string of bribes Francis paid for leaked military data.
On Friday, Amundson was sentenced to 30 months in prison. He joins the ranks of more than a dozen other US Navy officials whose military service is now tarnished with felony records for getting cosy with Francis in what has become the worst corruption scandal to hit the navy in decades.
Amundson, a decorated combat pilot, told the judge that he did not realise what he was doing was illegal. The schedules of port visits in Southeast Asia he gave Francis were not classified and were regularly given to contractors, his lawyers said.
But the judge disagreed, pointing to the secrecy with which Amundson operated.
“It was calculated. It was deliberate,” US District Judge Janis Sammartino said on Friday. “As decorated as you were, it’s hard to fathom why you’d sell out for so little.”
Unlike other navy officials who served Francis – nicknamed “Fat Leonard” – and his Glenn Defence Marine Asia contracting company, Amundson did not accept cash. But he had a good time on Francis’ dime: lavish meals, parties, hotel stays and prostitutes.
He has agreed to pay US$21,625 in restitution – an amount Amundson says stems from a night at a casino – and a US$10,000 fine.
From 2008 to 2012 Amundson was based in Singapore as a Cooperation Afloat and Readiness Training, or CARAT, exercise officer and theatre engagement manager for the commander, Logistics Group Pacific. The role had him leading exercises with other nations.
Amundson said he was suspicious of GDMA’s seemingly excessive billing and did not deal with Francis. GDMA provided husbanding services to visiting war ships, from rubbish removal to water to security.
After he left the CARAT programme, Amundson said he went to a Francis-funded karaoke party with several other officers – a regular affair in ports where Francis operated. It was after that when Francis befriended him.
Amundson said his replacement at CARAT was not sending out ship schedules to contractors regularly, so Francis asked him to pass on the information.
“GDMA already had the contract to do the husbanding,” Amundson’s lawyers pointed out. “The CARAT information merely told GDMA what port and what type of ship it would have to husband.”
In December 2012, after another Francis-paid night out for Amundson and other officers, which included prostitutes, he gave Francis an envelope containing confidential, proprietary information relating to Amundson’s work on a forthcoming CARAT exercise, noted prosecutors.
“A clearer example of quid pro quo is difficult to imagine,” they wrote in a sentencing memo.
Amundson communicated with Francis on BlackBerry messenger, Yahoo email and WhatsApp rather than his navy email account.
At one point, he told Francis he cannot use BlackBerry messenger because he was “100 per cent sure” he was being monitored.
In March 2013, he wrote: “Handoff?” then told Francis his “programme is awesome. I am a small dog just trying to get a bone … however I am very happy with my small programme. I still need 5 minutes to pass some data when we can meet up. Cannot print.”
Francis was arrested in September 2013 at a San Diego hotel after being lured there by authorities. Soon after, federal law enforcers visited Amundson and asked him about his dealings with the contractor. After the interview, Amundson deleted his emails with Francis, prosecutors said.
Like many of the naval officers who have come before Sammartino for sentencing, Amundson said he fell victim to Francis’ charm.
Amundson apologised for his conduct, saying the crime has taken an enormous toll on him and his family. He lost his job after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery.
“I am living with self-disgust I feel for having compromised my duty to country,” he wrote in a letter to the judge.
His lawyer, Roseline Feral, said his behaviour was aberrant and blamed his mental state on the effects of war.
“What he has done for this country will never be erased by where he is now,” Feral told the judge.
While 21 people, including Francis, have pleaded guilty in the case, 12 others continue to fight the charges.
Francis has agreed to pay $35 million in restitution but is still awaiting sentencing as he cooperates with the investigation. His health is failing so much so that he was granted bail and is living in an undisclosed location near his doctor in the San Diego area.