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Prosecutor misconduct leads to thrown out convictions, plea deals in 'Fat Leonard' case

Fat Leonard
Posted at 2:45 PM, Sep 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-06 17:45:40-04

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Four former U.S. Navy officers convicted in San Diego of accepting bribes from foreign defense contractor Leonard Glenn "Fat Leonard" Francis pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges Wednesday, which resulted in immediate sentences that carried no prison time and $100 fines each.

After arguing in court filings that their felony convictions for bribery, fraud and conspiracy should be overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct, former Capts. David Newland, James Dolan, David Lausman and former Cmdr. Mario Herrera accepted plea deals that vacated their prior convictions and had the ex-officers sentenced to agreed-upon terms that included no custody, probation or restitution.

Following the former officers' trial, defense attorneys filed a flurry of motions that alleged prosecutors withheld evidence from the defense and prepped witnesses to provide false testimony.

U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino, who presided over the trial, accepted the plea agreements reached between the parties, but not before excoriating the prosecution.

"These allegations have never been responded to by the government," Sammartino said during Wednesday's change of plea hearing. "Rather than respond, the government has moved this court to respect a negotiated resolution of a misdemeanor plea and to dismiss these defendants from the indictment and vacate each defendant's counts of conviction that occurred in this case. The only reasonable inference from this request is that the allegations cannot and will not be justified or ever defended by the government."

She further echoed the defense attorneys' findings that "the conduct by the government in this case can only be described as outrageous."

The sprawling prosecution largely resulted in plea deals for dozens of other defendants, including Francis, who spent years on house arrest in San Diego before he absconded from his residence and fled the country.

Prosecutors said Francis plied the officers with fancy hotel stays, meals and prostitutes, and in return received classified Navy information and had ships steered to ports his ship husbanding company controlled, which allowed him to overbill the Navy by millions.

The four officers and former Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless were the only defendants who went to trial. Jurors convicted the four men, but were unable to reach verdicts against Loveless, whose charges were also later dismissed by prosecutors.

Among the misconduct allegations that sprung up were an accusation that prosecutors withheld statements from a prostitute who told federal agents she did not have sex with Lausman, despite the prosecution alleging she did.

Sammartino later ruled the actions constituted "flagrant misconduct" but declined a defense request to dismiss the case.

Robert Boyce, who represented Lausman, said a prosecutor made that allegation against his client during opening statements and "continued that false narrative knowing that it was false because that was the most salacious accusation against (Lausman.)"

Defense attorneys also alleged a federal agent who testified in the trial made inaccurate statements in his arrest warrant affidavit in an unrelated but similar bribery case, but that was never disclosed to the defense.

The attorneys argued in court filings that the agent lied on the stand about where he received hard drives containing documents the prosecution used as evidence in their case. Defense attorneys allege those hard drives came from one of Francis' employees and contained doctored documents.

The defense also argued that prosecutors hid the nature of Francis' living conditions while he was on house arrest, which tainted his cooperation with the government.

"They represented to us that he was living like a monk in a cell, when in fact he was living a lavish lifestyle in a mansion," said Joseph Mancano, Newland's attorney.

In a motion filed last year, defense attorneys wrote, "Mr. Francis certainly viewed the government as a key player in assuring his continued enjoyment of his luxurious lifestyle and lax security arrangement. This gave Mr. Francis a very immediate and considerable incentive to keep his perceived benefactor happy, and is persuasive evidence establishing Mr. Francis's bias in favor of the government."

Newland, Dolan, and Herrera pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of disclosing confidential information, while Lausman pleaded guilty to destruction of government property for destroying a computer hard drive.

While the cases against the four officers have come to a close, a number of other former Navy officers who pleaded guilty to various charges still await sentencing. Francis, who was arrested in Venezuela shortly after his escape from San Diego, also awaits extradition to the United States.

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