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Former Navy fighter pilot to be tried by military in 'Fat Leonard' bribery scandal

Cmdr. David Morales, photographed on Jan. 9, 2015 in Pyeongtaek, South Korea.

U.S. NAVY

By COURTNEY MABEUS | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: September 13, 2017

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — A former Navy fighter pilot accused of accepting bribes of suckling pigs, tickets to a Julio Iglesias concert and other extravagant gifts in the service's long-ranging 'Fat Leonard' corruption scandal now faces a court martial.

Cmdr. David Morales did not enter a plea during his brief arraignment Wednesday in a military courtroom on Naval Station Norfolk. He faces military charges that he conspired with and violated general orders by accepting meals, alcohol, travel, nightclub entry fees, event tickets and the services of prostitutes from Leonard Francis, the disgraced owner and chief executive of Glenn Defense Marine Asia.

Other charges against Morales include bribery, graft, conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman and lying about his connection to a foreign national.

Morales had a preliminary hearing in June to determine whether he would be tried. The Naval Academy graduate was the first Navy official charged by the military in the Fat Leonard investigation that uncovered widespread corruption in the Navy’s Japan-based 7th Fleet.

Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 to presiding over a conspiracy involving tens of millions of dollars in fraud and millions of dollars in bribes and gifts in return for contracts to provide services to ships in southeast Asia, according to the Justice Department. At least 20 other current or former Navy officials have been charged in the scheme which, until recently, has been adjudicated in a San Diego federal court.

Federal prosecutors' decision not to charge Morales under civilian law was proof that evidence against him was weak, his attorney Frank Spinner has said. Spinner declined to comment further Wednesday.

Charges against Morales stem from his time as deputy director for operations at the Naval Regional Contracting Center Singapore. Charging documents accuse Morales of accepting more than $5,000 in food, drink, entertainment and travel – including a one-night stay in a luxury hotel – and the services of prostitutes from Francis in Singapore, Korea, Honolulu and Thailand in 2012 and 2013, and of conspiring with the contractor by giving him names of Navy officers with influence over ships' schedules, contracts, payments and services whom he thought could be bribed, and of arranging or attempting to arrange meetings with those officials.

Other charges against Morales have been dropped, including patronizing a prostitute, adultery, and that he violated a general order by soliciting a bottle of "Cristal" champagne from Francis.

Morales flew the F/A-18 Hornet with the Norfolk-based Carrier Strike Group 12 and the Virginia Beach-based Strike Fighter Squadron 106 from 2002 to 2004, according to a Navy biography. He currently is assigned to Naval Air Force Atlantic.

©2017 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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