- Associated Press - Thursday, June 23, 2016

SAN DIEGO (AP) - A retired government contracting supervisor pleaded guilty to bribery Thursday, admitting he accepted more than $300,000 from a Malaysian businessman nicknamed “Fat Leonard” whom prosecutors say bilked the armed forces out of more than $34 million in one of the Navy’s worst corruption cases.

Paul Simpkins, 62, who worked for the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice, pleaded guilty to one count of bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in federal court in San Diego. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 9. The bribery charge carries a maximum sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

Simpkins, of Haymarket, Virginia, admitted to accepting the money, travel, and the services of prostitutes in exchange for helping Singapore-based businessman Leonard Francis and his company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, land multi-million dollar contracts servicing Navy ships in Asia.

Prosecutors say Simpkins worked to suspend at least one of Francis’ competitors, prevented staff from reviewing the company’s invoices, and overruled a lieutenant who recommended against extending one of the company’s contracts because of high prices. Simpkins has agreed to pay back the Navy $450,000, according to his plea agreement. His lawyer, John Lemon, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Simpkins is among 14 people charged so far in the scandal centered on the gregarious Francis, nicknamed “Fat Leonard” because of his large girth. All but three have pleaded guilty.

Known for lavish dinners and parties attended by U.S. Navy officers for decades, Francis pleaded guilty to bribery charges last year and is awaiting sentencing.

Investigators say Francis’ dealings with Simpkins started as early as 2005 when Simpkins served as a supervisory contract official in Singapore. At the time the Navy was looking at awarding long, potentially extendable contracts for providing food and supplies to ships off Thailand and the Philippines.

Simpkins helped Francis land one contract in Thailand worth more than $7 million, according to the prosecution. The two met at a hotel in Singapore on multiple occasions to discuss the scheme, according to court documents.

Simpkins had Francis wire the money to an account in Japan belonging to Simpkins’ wife, who is Japanese, to hide the bribes, according to federal investigators. Simpkins also used fictitious email accounts, including one in the name of his mistress, and would cover up the bribes by calling them real estate investments when writing to Francis.

In January 2007, Simpkins issued orders for officials in Hong Kong to stop using meters to measure the flows of liquid waste removed from Navy ships, which would have provided proof of Francis’ company overcharging for its services, according to court documents.

In May 2007, Simpkins wrote to Francis in an email that he wanted to accept a job at the U.S. Department of Justice but that he would continue to be a “friend” and of use to him since Pentagon lawyers worked there, according to court documents. Simpkins later returned to working for the Department of Defense in its small business programs office. Investigators said the two continued their mutually beneficial relationship through September 2012.

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This story has been corrected to correct the spelling of the company’s name to Glenn Defense Marine Asia.

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