Two Navy officers plead guilty in "Fat Leonard" scandal in Norfolk courtrooms

Side boys salute Capt. John Steinberger, the off-going commander of Destroyer Squadron One, following the unit’s change of command ceremony on Naval Base San Diego in California Oct. 12, 2012.


By COURTNEY MABEUS | The Virginian Pilots (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 6, 2018

NORFOLK, Va. — Two Navy officers admitted Tuesday in separate military courtrooms that they accepted gifts, including the services of prostitutes, and became the latest in a slew of naval officials whose careers have been derailed in the service’s long-running “Fat Leonard” corruption scandal.

Cmdr. Jason Starmer pleaded guilty to willful dereliction of duty, patronizing a prostitute and adultery. He was sentenced to 60 days restriction at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, fined $3,000 and will receive a punitive letter of reprimand. Military judge Navy Capt. Robert Monahan also sentenced Starmer to forfeit a total $3,000 in pay, but he will not face that as part of a pre-trial agreement. Starmer will be administratively separated from the service as part of that agreement.

Capt. John Steinberger pleaded guilty to willful dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. Navy Capt. Charles Purnell sentenced him to receive a punitive letter of reprimand and a $10,000 fine. Steinberger also will be administratively separated as part of a pre-trial agreement.

Starmer and Steinberger’s characterizations of service and retirement grades will be determined later by the secretary of the Navy.

Fat Leonard is the nickname for Leonard Francis, the owner and chief executive of Glenn Defense Marine Asia . He pleaded guilty in 2015 to presiding over a massive conspiracy involving “scores” of Navy officials, and millions of dollars in fraud, bribes and gifts in return for lucrative contracts to provide husbanding services to ships in the 7th Fleet, according to the Justice Department.

Starmer and Steinberger are the two latest officers to plead guilty in military court. During a non-judicial punishment hearing, or admiral’s mast, on Feb. 27, Lt. Peter Vapor admitted to violating a lawful order, conduct unbecoming an officer and making a false official statement, according to U.S. Fleet Forces Command spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Allen. Vapor received a punitive letter of reprimand and a $2,000 forfeiture of one month’s pay in exchange for the Navy dismissing charges against him.

Steinberger is a surface warfare officer who commanded a destroyer squadron attached to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson from Nov. 18, 2010, through Oct. 12, 2012. According to a charge sheet, he willfully was in dereliction of his duties by accepting gifts in excess of permissible limits from Francis from January 2011 through April 2012 at or near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Manila, Philippines, Hong Kong and Perth, Australia. Also on “divers occasions in 2011” while in Malaysia and in the Philippines, he wrongfully engaged in “a sexual act with a person who received compensation for engaging in such act, which conduct was unbecoming an officer and a gentleman,” according to a charge sheet.

Steinberger has most recently been temporarily assigned to Navy Region Southwest, where he led a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program, his attorney, Lt. Cmdr. Bryan Davis said.

Steinberger was initially accused under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with conspiring with Francis in exchange for providing information to competitors and attempting to influence senior officials to benefit the contractor. On Tuesday, Steinberger, who according to a Navy biography was commissioned in 1987, admitted to accepting “inappropriate gifts, but I never responded.”

In a courtroom just feet away, Starmer said he met Francis in September 2012 when he joined senior officers at a bar in Singapore, though he was already aware of the contractor’s reputation. Starmer was a lieutenant commander and foreign area officer at the time assigned to the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group in Bangkok, Thailand, where he acted as a liaison and arranged military operations.

In April 2013, Starmer met with Francis during another visit to Singapore. He described an alcohol-fueled night that began with a sushi dinner he initiated with the contractor to discuss problems at a port before the two moved on to a karaoke bar. As soon as they arrived “lots of girls started showing up,” he told the judge.

“I didn’t think that they were, I guess, just hanging out for their health,” Starmer said.

Starmer said he took one of the women back to his hotel room and assumed she was being paid by Francis. Text messages shown to the court by government attorney Navy Lt. Cmdr Adam Partridge on Tuesday showed Starmer describing the woman as an “exceptional talent” to Francis and arranging for another to stop by his hotel room. In a text message following that visit, Starmer complained that the woman had “mosquito bite scratches all over her body. Plus she was on her phone half the night.”

Starmer began working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon in 2015 but was later reassigned when he lost his security clearance because of the investigation , he told Monahan.

Starmer estimated that he accepted a combined $400 in food and drink from the contractor, and told Monahan he knew he should not have accepted the gifts.

“I should have paid for myself, sir,” he said.

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