SAN DIEGO/May 17, 2017 (AP)(STL.News) — Over two decades, Robert Gilbeau rose through the ranks to Navy admiral and earned a chest-full of honors for his service, including a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. During that period he also partied across Southeast Asia with a gregarious Malaysian businessman who paid for lavish dinners, drinks at karaoke bars and prostitutes.
That businessman, known as “Fat Leonard,” is the centerpiece of a massive bribery scandal involving Navy officers, and Gilbeau last year pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about their relationship. He was the first active-duty admiral convicted of a federal crime and on Wednesday he learned his penalty: 18 months in jail.
Acting U.S. Attorney Alana W. Robinson called it a “somber day.”
“When tempted by parties and prostitutes, one of our most respected leaders chose karaoke over character, and cover-up over confession,” she said. “In doing so he forever tarnished the reputation of a revered institution.”
Gilbeau acknowledged his wrongdoing in federal court in San Diego.
The Bronze Star recipient told the judge he is “deeply sorry” and cannot explain his actions. He stood in court with his fluffy white dog, which accompanies him as part of his treatment for post-traumatic stress. His defense had argued that his PTSD and a traumatic brain injury from a blast in Iraq should be taken into account, though prosecutors said he was exaggerating his condition because he knew he was going to get caught.
“I never wanted to end my career this way,” the 56-year-old Navy veteran said. “I’m still proud of my career and to be an American.”
Gilbeau wrote in a letter to the judge that “I have no one to blame but myself.”
He said while his PTSD is not an excuse, it gave him a desire to “make self-destructive decisions.”
Gilbeau was convicted in June after admitting that he lied when he told federal agents that he had never received any gifts from Leonard Glenn Francis. The Navy allowed him to retire in October but reduced his rank from rear admiral to captain.
Nicknamed “Fat Leonard” because of his wide girth, Francis has admitted to bribing Navy officials with more than $500,000 in cash, prostitutes, and other gifts in exchange for classified information to help his company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia. He is awaiting sentencing.
Francis and his company that supplies food and fuel to ships overbilled the Navy by more than $34 million, prosecutors said.
Gilbeau first met Francis in 1997 during a port visit to Bali, Indonesia, where Francis wooed Gilbeau and another U.S. Navy officer with hotel rooms, dinners and the services of prostitutes, according to investigators.
For years, Francis footed the bill for Gilbeau’s late-night partying at nightclubs and karaoke bars, fine dining, luxury hotels and paid sex in Asian countries.
In exchange, Gilbeau signed off on Francis’ company invoices that grossly overbilled the Navy, prosecutors said.
In one instance, Gilbeau signed an invoice for the USS Nimitz that was the highest amount the Navy ever paid per day for wastewater removal in the history of the ship. Prosecutors said evidence suggests the company kicked back $40,000 in cash to Gilbeau.
Gilbeau has denied taking cash.
U.S. District Judge Janis L. Sammartino said Gilbeau carried out “a systematic destruction of records,” after Francis was arrested in 2013 to conceal his involvement.
“You violated the law,” she said. “You dishonored your shipmates, the Navy and the United States of America.”
Twenty current and former Navy officials have been charged so far. Ten have pleaded guilty.
Five Glenn Defense Marine Asia executives and the corporation have also pleaded guilty.
JULIE WATSON, Associated Press
AP writer Elliot Spagat contributed to this report.