Then-US Navy Capt. Donald “Bubbles” Hornbeck, left, and the former defense contractor Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.
Another day, another guilty plea from a retired Navy leader snagged in the Fat Leonard corruption scandal.
On Wednesday, Feb. 2, in San Diego, US Judge Janis L. Sammartino accepted ex-Capt. Donald Gayle “Bubbles” Hornbeck’s plea deal he inked with federal prosecutors Aug. 11, 2021. In it, he copped to letting the Malaysian defense contractor Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis ply him with prostitutes, champagne-soaked feasts, and luxury resort rooms in exchange for lucrative ship husbanding jobs.
Federal investigators estimate Hornbeck, 61, took $67,830 worth of perks from Francis, who then overbilled the US taxpayer for tugboats, port and customs fees, food and fuel, vessel security, and even liquid waste disposal services. Investigators believe Francis bilked the US government for more than $35 million.
Hornbeck also confessed to selecting and grooming future sailors to corrupt on Fat Leonard’s behalf and to overseeing the transfer of classified ship movement information to the contractor, but his plea deal allows him to face justice for only one count of bribery.
“While scores of Navy officials were partying with Leonard Francis, a massive breach of national security was in full swing,” US Attorney Randy Grossman said Wednesday in a prepared statement. “Today another participant has admitted that he lost his way, allowing greed to replace honor and duty as the driving force in his life. This is a day of reckoning for a captain who traded his honor and integrity for material pleasures.”
Neither Hornbeck in Greenfield, Indiana, nor his defense attorney responded to messages from Coffee or Die Magazine seeking comment.
US Department of Justice officials count 29 defendants who have pleaded guilty in the public corruption scandal. Hornbeck was one of nine former 7th Fleet leaders indicted by a federal grand jury in 2017. The others include Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless; Capts. David “Newly” Newland, David “Too Tall” Lausman, and James “JD” Dolan; Cmdrs. Mario “Choke” Herrera and Stephen Shedd; Chief Warrant Officer Robert Gorsuch; and US Marine Col. Enrico “Rick” DeGuzman.
Hornbeck is the fourth of the group to plead guilty, following Shedd, Gorsuch, and DeGuzman. The rest are scheduled for trial in San Diego on Feb. 28.
Sammartino is slated to sentence Hornbeck Sept. 8 in San Diego. Hornbeck faces up to 15 years in federal prison, three years of supervised release when he exits the penitentiary, and a $250,000 fine. He’s agreed to repay the federal government the $67,830 worth of bribes showered on him by Fat Leonard, according to an addendum to his plea deal.
That 21-page deal with prosecutors reads like a how-to book on buying a senior Navy commissioned officer.
It begins in mid-2006, when Hornbeck was the assistant chief of staff for the Kitty Hawk Carrier Strike Group, and continues to early 2009, when he served as the N3, deputy chief of staff, for the Japan-based US 7th Fleet. The plum position gave Hornbeck the power to direct the operations of all warships across much of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
It ends in 2011, with Hornbeck repeatedly begging Francis for a job.
Fat Leonard makes his appearance in an April 4, 2006, email to Hornbeck to see whether Hornbeck could exert influence on the movements of other ships, such as the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln that was transiting through the 7th Fleet’s area of responsibility. Francis wanted the warship and its escorts to visit Thailand’s Laem Chabang port.
Hornbeck responded by asking Francis whether he was hiring in San Diego, adding “please don’t hesitate to ask” if the contractor needed anything.
Another Fat Leonard email arrived on Aug. 16, 2006, asking Hornbeck to divert the guided-missile destroyer Lassen from its slated port call in Thailand’s Phuket to Laem Chabang. This time, the captain answered that he’d requested Lassen visit Laem Chabang alongside the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk.
On Feb. 4, 2007, Hornbeck joined Francis for a cocktail reception atop the helipad of Singapore’s Shangri-La Hotel.
Exactly a month later, Hornbeck and others were feted by Fat Leonard at Tokyo’s The Oak Door steakhouse, where the captain dined on foie gras, lobster thermidor, and Sendai tenderloin. Dessert was Liberté Sauvage, the winning pastry of the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie, followed by cognac and cigars.
On May 20, 2007, Hornbeck emailed a thank-you to Francis, writing, “Believe you are informed about upcoming plans for our ships and port visits. Let me know if you need anything.”
When the Navy mulled over nixing a 2007 call by the Kitty Hawk at Malaysia’s Port Klang, Hornbeck told Fat Leonard “it’s coming together” for the visit. The flattop spent Aug. 28 to Sept. 1, 2007, at Port Klang, and Francis billed nearly $1.9 million for services rendered.
From Jan. 28 to Feb. 1, 2008, Hornbeck stayed in a $626-per-night room on the Harbour View Club Floor of the JW Marriott in Hong Kong, but Francis cooked up a fake $126 charge for the officer to pass off with the Navy.
During Hornbeck’s stay, Francis hosted the captain and other sailors in the Alsace Room of the Michelin-starred Pétrus restaurant, where the $18,371 champagne-soaked eight-course feast included black truffle soup, rock lobster salad, caviar, pan-seared duck liver with pear and sunchoke, Dover sole, grilled Wagyu beef tenderloin Rossini, a selection of fine cheeses, and a baked Alaska dessert.
In his thank-you email to Francis, Hornbeck again solicited him for a job when the captain retired from the Navy.
On May 2, 2008, Fat Leonard rented rooms at the Conrad Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, for Hornbeck and others, where “they were entertained by numerous prostitutes, paid for by Francis,” according to the grand jury indictment.
Two days later, co-defendant Shedd emailed Fat Leonard to say Hornbeck and others were “all smiles” on the drive home from their “one night in Bangkok.”
From May 6 to May 9, 2008, Francis put Hornbeck and others up at Singapore’s Shangri-La Hotel. During the trip, they dined at the tony Mezza9. And when they returned from the restaurant, Fat Leonard made sure prostitutes were waiting for them.
Hornbeck wrote a thank-you email to Francis for the dinner. He added, “Also really enjoyed my new Mongolian friend.”
Between May 22 and 25, 2008, Hornbeck and others stayed in the Presidential Suite of the Makati Shangri-La Hotel in Manila, where Fat Leonard hosted “a raging multi-day party, with a rotating carousel of prostitutes in attendance, during which the conspirators drank all of the Dom Perignon” champagne the resort had, according to the grand jury indictment.
In the wake of the $50,000 bacchanal, Hornbeck thanked Fat Leonard again in an email, adding it “was great seeing you again. Always a pleasure spending time with you.”
On July 21 and July 23, 2008, Francis emailed Shedd and Hornbeck a nude photo of a prostitute, noting that it should bring back memories especially for “Don,” using Hornbeck’s first name.
Hornbeck left the 7th Fleet for assignment on board the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, which was homeported in California. On Dec. 28, 2010, Hornbeck told Francis the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group would make a Port Klang visit in early 2011.
On Jan. 25, 2011, Francis rented Hornbeck a room in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. On Feb. 12, 2011, Hornbeck again asked Francis for a job.
Hornbeck also commanded the San Diego-based Destroyer Squadron 1 until May 29, 2011.
“Mr. Hornbeck abdicated the standards, responsibilities, and ideals required of a senior U.S. Navy officer over a multi-year period solely to enrich himself and others by willfully facilitating a corrupt Navy contractor’s years’ long fraud against the U.S. Government,” Kelly P. Mayo, the acting director of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, said in a prepared statement.
Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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