Felony Convictions Dismissed Despite Guilty Pleas

(UnitedVoice.com) – The Fat Leonard scandal has been described as the worst national security breach in the US Navy since the Cold War. It involved a prominent contractor and many uniformed officers of the US Seventh Fleet. Five felony convictions related to the case were recently thrown out.

Convictions Tossed

On May 21, Justice Department officials asked US District Judge Janis Sammartino to throw out five guilty verdicts against former Navy members who pleaded or were found guilty in the Leonard “Fat Leonard” Francis case. The DOJ cited prosecutorial misconduct in the investigation, including a failure to hand exculpatory evidence over to the defense teams.

The five Navy officers admitted to accepting a total of nearly $400,000 in bribes from Francis. The San Diego judge agreed, saying the prosecution committed “serious misconduct.” He called the “unraveling” of the prosecutions a “tragic chapter for the Navy and an embarrassment for the government.”

One of the defendants, Cmdr. Steve Shedd, had pleaded guilty and admitted on the stand that he was a traitor to the US. During his 2022 testimony, Shepp said that he was “a disgrace” who deserved to go to prison. Four other defendants — Navy Capt. Donald Hornbeck, Chief Warrant Officer Robert Gorsuch, Cmdr. Jose Luis Sanchez, and Marine Col. Enrico DeGuzman — were all found guilty.

Although the judge overturned the verdicts, he refused to strike them from the record, telling the court nothing said they weren’t guilty.

Fat Leonard Case

Francis pleaded guilty in 2015. He admitted that he showered the officers with gifts so that they would give him classified Navy ship schedules. The Malaysian defense contractor’s company once had more than $200 million in federal contracts to resupply Navy ships that docked at ports in the Western Pacific.

Francis was arrested in 2013. When prosecutors were building the case, they brought charges against 34 defendants. Twenty-nine of them pleaded guilty to receiving cash, travel, luxury gifts, sexual favors, and other things.

The Department of Justice is reviewing more of the closed cases to see if any of those might “merit relief.” Many of the defendants in the other cases have already completed their prison terms. Prosecutors could ask the judge to erase those defendants’ felony records and allow them to issue guilty pleas for lesser charges.

Rachel VanLandingham, a law professor at Los Angeles’ Southwestern Law School, told The Washington Post that the prosecutors’ actions might have tainted the entire case. She said it would “be really interesting to see if the wheels come off for the entire train.”

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