cover image Fat Leonard: How One Man Bribed, Bilked and Seduced the U.S. Navy

Fat Leonard: How One Man Bribed, Bilked and Seduced the U.S. Navy

Craig Whitlock. Simon & Schuster, $30.99 (464p) ISBN 978-1-9821-3163-0

In this rollicking exposé, Washington Post reporter Whitlock (The Afghanistan Papers) recaps the exploits of Leonard Francis, the Malaysian owner of Glenn Defense Marine Asia, a Singapore-based logistics company that robbed millions of dollars from the U.S. government by overcharging the Navy. (Exaggerating the amount of sewage pumped out of ships’ septic tanks was a favorite scam.) From the 1990s onwards, Francis kept his fraud going by corrupting Seventh Fleet officers, who signed off on bogus invoices, steered contracts to his company, and quashed inquiries; he even had a mole in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service who helped him dodge investigations. Drawing on troves of incriminating emails and Francis’s colorful testimony after his 2013 arrest, Whitlock’s vivid narrative is a whirl of blithe graft as the charming, insidious, free-spending Francis recruits Navy personnel with gourmet feasts at swanky restaurants, luxury vacations, gifts of furniture and electronics, envelopes of cash, and many, many prostitutes, who sometimes snapped compromising pics of boozy sailors. It’s also an appalling indictment of an out-of-control Navy that ditched its ethos of duty and honor in favor of craven toadying, and then, when the scandal came out, shielded the top brass from accountability while lower ranks went to jail. The result is an entertaining picaresque about a magnetic rogue that also spotlights troubling rot in the U.S. military. (May)