SAN DIEGO – A senior US Navy officer was sentenced to 18 months in prison, and another censured for their roles in a huge corruption scandal linked to a Singapore-based defence contractor known as “Fat Leonard” Francis.

The scandal that goes back to at least 2007 cost the United States government about US$35 million (S$47 million), and is the biggest in the history of the US Navy.

Navy commander Bobby Pitts, 48, who was in charge of the Fleet Industrial Supply Command in Singapore, was sentenced last Friday to 18 months in prison, according to a statement from the Office of the US Attorney for the Southern District of California.

Former Rear Admiral Kenneth Norton was given a letter of censure by the Secretary of the Navy for his role in the case.

Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis was arrested by federal agents in 2013 in a sting operation in San Diego and has pleaded guilty to bribing scores of US Navy officials. His Singapore-based company Glenn Defence Marine Asia (GDMA) provided services to US Navy ships including fuel and tugboats at Asian ports.

The Washington Post reported last month that corruption investigation into the so-called “Fat Leonard” case has expanded to include more than 60 admirals and hundreds of other Navy officers.

Previous media reports said at least 20 Navy personnel had been indicted, after being accused of taking bribes from Francis, a Malaysian businessman, in the form of lavish gifts, prostitutes and luxury hotel stays, suckling pigs and Cuban cigars.

The corruption scandal, which has engulfed the US Navy over the past four years, has only deepened as more details emerge.

The Navy said it has tightened oversight of its contracting process, following the scandal.

Pitts had pleaded guilty in 2015 to bribery and fraud charges, and that he tried to block the probe.

US District Judge Janis Sammartino told Pitts he had “betrayed the Navy and betrayed the country”.

“Pitts deliberately and methodically undermined government operations and in doing so, diverted his allegiance from his country and colleagues to a foreign defence contractor, and for that, he is paying a high price,” said US Attorney Adam Braverman.

Pitts was also ordered by the court to pay US$22,500 in fines and restitution.

Meanwhile, former Rear Admiral Norton, who retired from the Navy in 2014, “was found to have repeatedly and improperly accepted gifts from GDMA”, according to a statement from Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer.

“I decided that Rear Admiral (Retired) Norton’s conduct reflected improper personal behaviour and set a wholly unethical tone of leadership.

Censure was both necessary and appropriate,” said Captain Spencer in a statement, as quoted on the US Naval Institute website.

Rear Admiral (Ret) Norton was commander of the Japan-based aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan during the 2008-2010 period.

Captain Spencer said a review of what the admiral did “concluded that he intentionally disregarded the ethical standards long established for the naval service and brought ill-repute and disgrace upon the US Navy”.

Francis traded gifts for classified info

The man known as Fat Leonard is Penang-born Leonard Glenn Francis, whose Singapore-based company is named Glenn Defence Marine Asia (GDMA).

GDMA provided ship handling services – coordinating, scheduling and procuring items or services for vessels directed to ports in places such as Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Philippines.

From meals of suckling pig and the services of prostitutes to cash gifts and designer furniture, Francis showered US Navy officers and civilian contractors with lavish bribes for almost a decade, according to court papers.

In return, Francis, who is believed to be 49 years old, received classified information and opportunities to overbill the US Navy. The US Navy was cheated of close to US$35 million (S$47 million).

Singapore was where some of the perks were exercised – Francis’ targets were wooed with plane tickets here, hotel stays and paid expenses, according to court papers.

He lived in a 28,000 sq ft bungalow in Nassim Road, one of Singapore’s most expensive addresses.  Francis, who pleaded guilty in 2013, is now awaiting sentencing in the US.