Hawaii’s Pacific Command took another blow to its reputation Monday when a former deputy chief of staff for U.S. Special Operations in Honolulu was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for his role in a Navy corruption and bribery scandal.
Former U.S. Navy Cmdr. David Kapaun of Oahu pleaded guilty in June to lying about his relationship with notorious Malaysian defense contractor Leonard G. “Fat Leonard” Francis.
More than two dozen naval officers have been charged or have pleaded guilty to accepting bribes of gifts, lavish meals and sessions with prostitutes from Francis in exchange for steering Navy contracts to him and sharing confidential information about ship and troop movements. More than 250 people, including 30 admirals, are or have been under investigation in the case.
In an interview in Honolulu on Monday, Mark Pletcher, a Justice Department attorney, said “the investigation is continuing.”
“We continue to follow all the breadcrumbs,” he said.
In court sentencing documents, federal prosecutors said that while Kapuan was a naval commander in Singapore in 2002 and 2003, Francis spent “tens of thousands of dollars on prostitutes for Kapaun, including frequently flying multiple prostitutes from Indonesia to Singapore.”
Francis told prosecutors that Kapaun received “the services of prostitutes on more occasions than any other U.S. Navy officer,” according to court documents.
Department of Defense investigators said Kapaun received at least $50,000 in illegal items and services from Francis, and in exchange, he served as what Francis called his company’s “comms center, strategist, and ops center.”
As a result of Kapaun’s enthusiastic support, prosecutors said, Francis’s Singapore-based defense contracting firm, which provided support services for U.S. naval vessels, grew from being what prosecutors called a “local company with few contracts to controlling large swathes of the Western Pacific.”
Pletcher said that Kapaun was an effective advocate for Francis “because of his ability to ‘speak’ Navy.”
During the sentencing hearing Monday at the federal courthouse, Kapaun and his attorney, Victor Bakke, did not dispute any of the facts presented by prosecutors.
“There’s been no attempt to conceal it once it came to light,” Bakke said. “… It is what it is.”
At the court hearing in June, Kapaun told Magistrate Richard Puglisi that he lied on his application for a security clearance renewal in February by failing to disclose that he had a long-standing relationship with Francis. Kapaun was serving as deputy chief of staff for U.S. Special Operations Command, Pacific, at Pearl Harbor at the time.
When Kapaun was questioned by investigators looking into the case, he voluntarily resigned, his attorney said.
In his plea agreement, Kapaun pledged to pay the Navy back $50,000, and will pay another $25,000 fine in the future, after he is released from prison.
Kapaun told the judge he regrets what he did, and said he will try to make amends to his friends and family. He said he put the Navy “in a negative light because of my behavior.”
Federal prosecutors had urged Judge Susan Oki Mollway to send Kapaun to federal prison for 18 months, because they said it would serve as “a sufficient counterweight to deter future illegal conduct” by those who seek “to use their position to benefit a defense contractor,” particularly as the United States engages in more activities overseas.
“As our military continues to engage in forward-deployed operations around the world, including our much-publicized ‘pivot to Asia,’ more and more sailors and soldiers find themselves in contact with foreign defense contractors who will offer money and more in return for secrets, information, and access,” prosecutors said in court documents.
Mollway sentenced Kapaun to 18 months, plus three years of supervised release and 200 hours of community service. He was ordered to voluntarily surrender Oct. 23.
Much of the court file concerning Kapaun — including presentencing reports and memos by probation officers — was sealed for national security reasons except as needed by attorneys who are parties to the case, court officials said.
The bribery scandal is another public relations problem for the Seventh Fleet, the naval force that is responsible for patrolling and protecting the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, Australia and waters around Russia and Korea. The Seventh Fleet is part of the Honolulu-based Pacific Command.
In August, the destroyer USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker collided off Singapore, causing 10 deaths, and seven sailors died in June when the destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship off Japan.
Last month, Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the Navy Pacific Fleet in Honolulu, dismissed Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the Seventh Fleet, and the Navy is investigating the causes of the accidents.
Here are the sentencing documents:
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A Kailua girl, Kirstin Downey is a special correspondent for Civil Beat. A longtime reporter for The Washington Post, she is the author of "The Woman Behind the New Deal," "Isabella the Warrior Queen" and an upcoming biography of King Kaumualii of Kauai. She can be reached at email@example.com.