SAN DIEGO, Calif. – A Thai woman extradited as part of the wide-ranging Navy corruption investigation involving ship-husbanding contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia appeared in federal court this week.
Pornpun “Yin” Settaphakorn, who ran GDMA’s office in Thailand, pleaded not guilty to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States during her initial appearance Friday at U.S. District Court in San Diego, Department of Justice officials announced.
Settaphakorn, 41, of Bangkok, is accused of “participating in a conspiracy to submit fraudulent price quotes, claims and invoices to the U.S. Navy in an effort to steal millions of dollars as part of a years-long fraud scheme,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California said in the statement.
A federal grand jury indicted her in December 2014 on several charges of conspiracy to defraud the U.S., conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and aiding and abetting, according to federal court records. She could face up to 35 years in prison and $750,000 in fines if convicted. An arrest warrant was issued for Settaphakorn, a resident of Bangkok, who was detained in Thailand pending extradition to the United States.
“Whoever you are, wherever you are in the world, and however long it takes, justice awaits those who imperil the U.S. Navy,” Randy Grossman, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, said in a statement.
Leonard Glenn Francis, president of Singapore-based GDMA, received contracts to manage port and husbanding services ranging from food to trash for Navy ships during port visits in the Asia-Pacific region. Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 to bribery and fraud charges, admitting a decade-long conspiracy with “tens of millions of dollars in fraud and millions of dollars in bribes” and gifts, officials said at the time.
Prosecutors have painted the conspiracy as a wide-reaching network run by Francis and GDMA to trade bribes of cash, luxury hotel suites, prostitutes’ services, expensive dinners, cigars and other gifts to Navy officials in exchange for lucrative, sought-out business contracts. Along the way, Francis got sensitive information about ships’ movements, prospective port visits and even competitors’ pursuits, according to court records, and he and GDMA executives skimmed millions in profits in fattened invoices submitted to the Navy. The network included senior leaders in command positions as well as in contracting, logistics and supply across the Western Pacific, from Hawaii to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.
A magistrate judge last Friday ordered Settaphakorn held in custody until her trial. She is expected to return to court for an April 9 hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Janis Sammartino, who has handled several GDMA prosecutions in recent years and is overseeing a trial involving the so-called “GDMA Nine.”
Settaphakorn’s appearance in court put an end to a long-running quest by U.S. officials to extradite her to face charges in the GDMA case. Thai courts had rebuffed U.S. prosecutors’ requests to extradite her for prosecution.
Bryan Denny, special agent-in-charge of Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s Western Field Office, in a statement called her extradition “a monumental step in the judicial process to hold Settaphakorn accountable for her alleged involvement in the sprawling, years-long scheme to defraud the U.S. Navy and the American taxpayer that was orchestrated by the disgraced Department of Defense contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia, Ltd. and its chief executive officer Leonard Francis. This action is but one example of the comprehensive actions DCIS and its partners will utilize to pursue justice for the warfighter.”
Settaphakorn allegedly helped hide the fraud by submitting false price quotes for ships’ services from non-existent companies on letterhead created from graphics cut and pasted from the internet and working with GDMA executives Neil Peterson and Linda Raja, both of Singapore, to submit more than $5 million in false claims, according to prosecutors. Peterson and Raja pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison terms of 76 months and 40 months, respectively.
Eric Maddox, special agent-in-charge of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service’s Economic Crimes Field Office, said Settaphakorn “deserves to be held fully accountable in U.S. federal court for her alleged role in GDMA’s years-long scheme to defraud the Navy.”
Since 2013, U.S. prosecutors in San Diego have been leading the federal investigation into the corruption case that’s ensnared hundreds of military and civilian officials and, so far, led to nearly 30 convictions in federal civilian and military courts, nearly all resulting from plea deals. But not all have seen a courtroom. Nearly a dozen senior officers have received Navy secretarial censures and, in one case, an admiral’s mast as part of administrative actions, at least among those publicly reported.
It’s been more than six years since Francis pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy to commit bribery, bribery, and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. But he’s yet to be sentenced, as the court has repeatedly approved prosecutors’ and defense attorneys’ requests to postpone his sentencing hearing. Francis has been on a court-authorized “medical furlough” release for several years.
Last month, the judge agreed to slide his sentencing yet again, to Sept. 24, according to court records.
Meanwhile, the court continues to prepare for what’s expected to be a significant trial involving nine former Navy and Marine Corps officials and officers who were indicted in 2017 on conspiracy allegations: Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless; Capts. David Newland, Donald Hornbeck, James Dolan and David Lausman; Cmdr. Mario Herrera; Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Shedd; CWO Robert Gorsuch; and Marine Lt. Col. Enrico DeGuzman. Their next hearing is set for April 20, but there’s no timetable for when the trial will begin.