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Retired Admiral Censured in Ongoing ‘Fat Leonard’ Investigation

Capt. Thom W. Burke, left, and Capt. Kenneth J. Norton cut into a cake modeled after the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) during a reception following their change of command ceremony in the ship’s hangar bay. US Navy photo.

- Now-retired Rear Adm. Kenneth Norton received a letter of censure from Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer Wednesday following a review of his interactions with Glenn Defense Marine Asia – the so-called “Fat Leonard” investigation.

Norton, while serving as commanding officer of aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) between 2008 and 2010 in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations, was found to have repeatedly and improperly received gifts from defense contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA). His personal behavior was “found to have constituted conduct unbecoming an officer,” according to a statement released today by Spencer.

The review of Norton’s actions concluded he “demonstrated exceedingly poor judgment and leadership. More specifically, the review concluded that he intentionally disregarded the ethical standards long established for the naval service and brought ill-repute and disgrace upon the U.S. Navy,” according to Spencer’s statement.

The Fat Leonard investigation is a wide-ranging Department of Justice look into illegal practices between naval officers and GDMA. The DoJ is scrutinizing a ten-year period when the Navy contracted GDMA to provide services in the Pacific such as tugs and pilots into ports; docking; and goods such as fuel and food. GDMA owner Leonard “Fat Leonard” Francis is currently in federal custody and admitted to instances of bribery and corruption to secure contracts to provide services to Navy ships.

Norton retired from the Navy in 2014, but his censure is the first related to the Fat Leonard investigation since 2015, when three other admirals operating in the region received “Secretarial Letters of Censure.” Vice Adm. Michael Miller, former superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy; Rear Adm. Terry Kraft, commander of Naval Forces Japan; and Rear Adm. David Pimpo, commander of Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP), all received their letters due to their interactions with GDMA between 2006 and 2008, according to the Navy.

The following is the complete Nov. 29, 2017 statement from the U.S. Navy on the censure.

Secretary of the Navy Censures Retired Senior Officer

Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer has issued a Secretarial Letter of Censure to a now-retired senior officer, retired Rear Adm. Kenneth Norton, following a thorough review into his interactions with Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) in the 2008-2010 timeframe.

While serving as the commanding officer, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) from 2008-2010 in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations, Norton was found to have repeatedly and improperly accepted gifts from GDMA, a defense contractor and prohibited source. Further, Norton’s personal behavior was found to have constituted conduct unbecoming an officer. Norton retired from the Navy in 2014.

The review concluded that Norton’s conduct was contrary to the Standards of Ethical Conduct, U.S. Navy Regulations, the Joint Ethics Regulation and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and demonstrated exceedingly poor judgment and leadership. More specifically, the review concluded that he intentionally disregarded the ethical standards long established for the naval service and brought ill-repute and disgrace upon the U.S. Navy.

“The Navy has a long tradition of holding leaders accountable and commanding officers are placed in unique positions of trust and responsibility. It is incumbent that they be held to the highest standards of both personal and professional behavior. After reviewing the findings and recommendation of the Consolidated Disposition Authority for GDMA matters, I decided that Rear Adm. (ret.) Norton’s conduct reflected improper personal behavior and set a wholly unethical tone of leadership. Censure was both necessary and appropriate,” said Spencer.

GDMA is the subject of an ongoing federal fraud and bribery investigation which was initiated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). In March 2014, the secretary of the Navy directed the appointment of a Consolidated Disposition Authority (CDA) to act as an independent authority to review GDMA matters forwarded by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to the Navy after the DOJ has declined to press criminal changes in the federal judicial system. The purpose of the CDA is to review the GDMA-related conduct of Navy members and determine what, if any, disciplinary or administrative actions are warranted and available.

The GDMA investigation continues to be led by DOJ and supported by NCIS and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS). The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California in San Diego and the Department of Justice Criminal Division in Washington, D.C., are leading the prosecution.

  • dpaul

    What has happened to our NAVY?????

    • Fred Gould

      Been a long time coming. Review when Lehman was SecNav.

  • east let off.

  • William Blankinship

    Is it possible that this “Fat Leonard” guy may have had the best service and prices? Just asking.

    • Duane

      There’s a long list of overcharges, double-charges, charges for products and services not delivered that was a documented result of the scandal. A portion of which paid for the expensive dinners, hotel rooms, hookers, booze, and cash payments to naval officers.

      • William Blankinship

        Those involved need to be brought to justice. It sure took a long time for this to happen.

        • Duane

          Yes, it did take way too long to stop. Apparently Fat Leonard recruited and paid a long list of informants operating within not only the Seventh Fleet, but even within NCIS itself. So whenever anyone filed a complaint about the thievery going on, the complaints were intercepted and deep-sixed multiple times! Google “Fat Leonard Washington Post” and you’ll find multiple articles that describe what happened and how. One article from May 2016 was entitled, “How One Man Seduced the Seventh Fleet”. Read it and it ought to make any navy man or woman, or taxpayer mad as heck.

          • William Blankinship

            I hope Leonard goes to jail for the rest of his life. This is stuff you read about in a Clancy novel. Which reminds me I should be getting a new one any day now.
            This kind of nonsense contributes to the ineffectiveness of our naval forces.When senior naval officers are not near perfect officers and gentlemen it effects the way our Navy operates all the way down the mess cook level. This is not a witch hunt but justice like another responder said. U S Navy 1963-67 and current Commander American Legion Post 393 Rusk, Texas

          • Rusty Bower

            Nothing is going to happen to “Fat Leonard”. That’s the sad thing. He is what is kniwn as a sole source, “the only game in town” that can accommodate the needs of the fleet. Although he has fleeced th US NAVY for millions, they will continue to use his disbanding services when ship’s pull into port. The only difference will be that billing the gov’t will be reviewed at a higher level. This is coming from a retired NAVY Senior Chief Storekeeper who dealt with disbanding agent across the globe.

          • Duane

            Leonard Glenn Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 and still awaits sentencing (likely delayed dependent upon him cooperating with the Navy’s investigation of his bag men). He faces up to 25 years in Federal prison – probably reduced with his cooperation.

  • Charles Pierce

    A letter of censure to a retired Admiral makes about as much sense as kissing you sister. If he had anything to do with the “Fat Leonard” situation. Recall to active and court martial.

  • Western

    Wow, that letter is sure to earn a scowl from the Starbucks barista. Face-palm.

  • Bob G.

    My guess is that Fat Leonard pushed some relatively insignificant gifts at the CO to Garner favor and the CO could really not give a hoot about the stupid gifts and just didn’t pay it enough attention at the time to categorically reject them. He was forward deployed commanding an aircraft carrier, basically a floating city equipped for warfare in potential war zone. Try, if you have the capacity to even imagine, the magnitude and scope of what was on his mind, constantly. Carrying the responsibility for a national asset, 5,000 people on board, protection of the democracy of a nation, and don’t forget-foreign relations. Yes, the CO has to give up valuable time to smile and glad hand when in foreign ports, maybe there’s and exchange of a token gift and a ship’s coin. He probably didn’t even know who “Fat Leonard” represented, just going through the motions. The Fat Leonard investigation has ferreted out significant problems and problem people. I think now it is becoming a witch hunt ripe for a nation that is becoming more interested in sensationalistic entertainment than fact. As a nation, we venerate overcompensated and entitled entertainers in movies TV and even sports who extoll the virtues of drug abuse and thuggery, yet we tear down a person who essentially gave the best years of his life in serving his nation. I’m not in the military and have no interest in protectionism, but have been around the Navy for many, many years. I have been acquainted with officers, male and female, whom I put on a pedestal, their faults as humans grossly outgunned by their acuity and fortitude. I have also know some that were not fit and would have personally keel-hauled, given the opportunity, but they were dealt with appropriately and drummed out. Forget Norton, waste of time. Here’s something ironic: Look at the top of the page “The US Naval Institute thanks its Corporate Sponsor, General Dynamics”. And we’re concerned about some chicken crap gifts to a CO years ago.

    • Duane

      This is not a witch hunt. This is justice.

      The CO set a horrible example for his officers, and then let them run amuck letting a foreign contractor run up a huge tab, at taxpayer expense, for services not delivered, or double charges, or over-charges, running in the many millions of dollars per year. This CO dishonored the entire naval service, and should make every active duty, retired, or veteran seamen ashamed that seniorl naval leaders would behave so dishonorably, cravenly, and unethically. That this CO literally looked the other way is what enabled Fat Leonard rip off the American taxpayer, and deprive the Navy of funds that were much needed for other critical needs related to readiness, over many years.

      • William Blankinship

        This takes away for spare parts and training budgets. We have seen the results of this.

  • Jim

    Sec Nav’s letter states … ” …more specifically, the review concluded that he intentionally disregarded the ethical standards long established for the naval service and brought ill-repute and disgrace upon the U.S. Navy”.

    Neither the News article nor Sec. Spencer’s letter -specified WHAT Adm. Norton actually DID? There was no information whatever other than vague references to Customs and Traditions. Was this acceptance of an ashtray or a million $ bribe? That doesn’t seem likely since it’s Important to note that after investigation, DOJ declined to press any criminal charges.

    Was the Admiral in fact “guilty” of poor judgement in accepting the advice of those charged with making the myriad decisions within his command? Is the Navy following its “PR” reaction in Fitzgerald / McCain – to fire everyone on up the line while the real causes continue to smolder?

    • Duane

      So you don’t believe that accepting lavish gifts, booze, dinners, parties, etc. from a US navy contractor exhibits poor judgment and ethics by the Admiral? That should be extremely obvious what he did. If you want to look up the details of exactly what he and his fellow officers did, there are substantial news reports that have been published the last couple of years in various pubs and that are available online.

      NCIS likely did not have enough in terms of a “quid pro quo” to tie this guy to specific purchasing decisions resulting from the corrupt provision of lavish gifts. No evidence that he ordered a subordinate to buy stuff from Fat Leonard. It was most likely a situation where the former CO of the Reagan didn’t bother to look the gift horse too closely in the mouth, or stop his supply officers from making the corrupt bargain.

      In any case, this former flag officer’s reputation is ruined forever by his dishonorable behavior. After you’re retired from service, memories and reputation are all that you have to show, beyond the retirement checks.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    Gee, sounds like what might happen to a Congressman after undergoing an investigation from their so-called ‘Ethics Committee’. No loss of positions, no real penalty or price to be paid, just a meaningless piece of paper that in essence says “You did indeed get away with it!”

    • Fred Gould

      Different spanks for different ranks.

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

    “Not pictured: Capt Burke smooshing a handful of cake into Capt Norton’s face”

  • Richard Johnson

    What a joke. Norton should frame the letter of censure and hang it up on his office wall next to the “prohibited gifts” he received while CO of REAGAN.

  • b2

    YGBSM. Bottom line is everyone on a CSG or any other two star staff who served in Westpac during Fat Leonards insidious 10+ years operations was institutionally tainted by just contact built in to any deployments there… In other words this seeming “W-hunt” could go on for years for political reasons. I call on the new SECNAV to end this instrument of inquisition/force shaping tool the Obama administration made it into… Anyone can see it.