NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Va. ― The Navy’s court-martial of Cmdr. David Morales, a former fighter pilot accused in the ongoing Glenn Defense Marine Asia “Fat Leonard” scandal, won’t happen until at least August.
But according to Morales’ lawyer, the case will go to court and they will fight the five charges and multiple specifications still levied against him.
“We intend to hold the government to the burden of proof,” said Frank Spinner, a retired Air Force lawyer now in private practice told Navy Times May 30, following a motions hearing in a Norfolk military courtroom.
“We intend to litigate this case, there will be no deal.”
The Navy alleges Morales took more than $5,000 in unauthorized gifts from Leonard “Fat Leonard” Francis. Those gifts allegedly included travel, dinners, drinks and the services of prostitutes, as well as prime tickets to a Julio Iglesias concert and a Gucci fashion show.
Morales’ defense team, led by Spinner, believe that the Navy’s entire case hinges on Francis’ testimony, something they believe they can counter.
Francis pleaded guilty in January 2015 to bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to defraud the United States out of $35 million. He has yet to be sentenced and is cooperating with the government in hopes of leniency when sentencing comes.
If the court-martial happens as planned, it would become the only Navy case in the GDMA scandal to be tried in open court. All previous prosecutions by the Navy have ended with plea bargains. Francis has yet to testify for any government prosecution in any case yet brought in the scandal.
But with Spinner vowing for a fight, he could soon have his first cross examination ― and that’s a battle that the lawyer believes he can win.
To date, 23 people, including Francis, have pleaded guilty in either civilian or military courts; another 11 cases are still pending.
Morales’s trial in front of a military judge and a jury of his peers was set to begin May 29 in Norfolk and was slated to run two weeks, but the unavailability of the prosecution’s star witness ― Francis ― cast both the timing and venue of the trial into question.
Navy Capt. Charles Purnell, the trial judge, issued a subpoena for Francis to appear earlier this year. Until last week, it was thought that Francis would be allowed to travel to Virginia to testify.
But a May 16 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Janis Sammartino in San Diego denied Francis permission to travel to Norfolk to testify against Morales.
In response, the Navy’s prosecutors again filed a motion to move the trial to San Diego. Morales’ lawyers objected. Navy legal sources say the judge, who has withheld his ruling on the matter for now, could still order the trial moved, that it’s unlikely to happen at this point.
Some sources have reported that Francis could testify over a video link, but Spinner told Navy Times that’s not allowable in a military court.
With Francis’ in-person testimony in doubt and the battle to get him to Virginia expected to take weeks to figure out, the only other option is for the trial to go to Francis.
If that were to happen, Francis would be deposed with the judge, prosecuting attorneys, defense attorneys and Morales present. And just like in court, not only will he be questioned by the Navy’s lawyers, but Morales’s defense team will be able to cross examine him as well.
If Francis’ is allowed to travel to Virginia and testify, the deposition wouldn’t be used. Should he not be able to appear, however, that deposition would substitute for Francis’ in-person testimony.
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.