A U.S. Navy official in charge of port service contracts for the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain has admitted to taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from the owner of a company providing those services, according to recently unsealed court records of a probe that carries stark similarities to the Navy’s “Fat Leonard” scandal.
Revelations around the case, first reported by The Washington Post, were laid bare last week with the unsealing of an arrest warrant for Frank Rafaraci, the CEO of Multinational Logistics Services, or MLS, a company that has received more than $100 million in contracts to service U.S. ships in port since 2013.
Rafaraci, a U.S. citizen who lives in Italy and the United Arab Emirates, was arrested in an unidentified country Sept. 27 at the request of the U.S. government, according to court records.
“The bribes were solicited, and Rafaraci corruptly gave, offered, and promised these things of value, as part of a course of conduct of favors and gifts flowing to (the Navy official) in exchange for a pattern of official acts favorable to Rafaraci and MLS,” the warrant states.
The warrant also alleges that Rafaraci and others overcharged the Navy by at least $50 million over the years.
In one instance, MLS had the contract to provide husbanding services to the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson when it pulled into Manama in early 2015.
But while MLS only paid about $12,600 to the Manama port authority, it submitted invoices to the Navy for more than $231,000, the warrant states.
That warrant also alleges that the Navy official serving as 5th Fleet’s Marine Liaison Officer took several bribes from Rafaraci, even as he oversaw port service deals for contractors like MLS.
The Navy official pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to commit bribery charge in June but is only referred to as “CC-2″ in the Rafaraci warrant.
That official is cooperating with authorities in the hopes of getting a more lenient sentence and his case remains under seal, according to court records.
The warrant by Defense Criminal Investigative Service agent Cordell DeLaPena states that CC-2 was a Navy official at various times from October 2006 to December 2017, and from July 2020 to present.
Navy spokespeople declined to provide the official’s name or confirm whether the Navy is still doing business with MLS.
The warrant alleges that Rafaraci and others “knowingly and intentionally conspired to bribe” the Navy official from 2015 to 2021.
That Navy official, the warrant alleges, “accepted and agreed to accept a ‘stream of benefits’ of things of value in return for being corruptly influenced by Rafaraci” and other unidentified MLS officials.
On July 11, 2015, the Navy official emailed a MLS employee with the subject line, “money,” according to the warrant.
“Hello, Hope this e-mail finds you and your family in good health and spirit,” the Navy official wrote. “Can I please make a loan out to you for $20,000?”
The next month, Rafaraci emailed another MLS employee and stated he needed $20,000 for “MLS Bahrain.”
The Navy official has met with federal agents several times and “initially denied that his solicitation and acceptance of things of value from Rafaraci and MLS was connected to his official duties for the U.S. Navy,” the warrant states.
The Navy official told law enforcement that he met Rafaraci at the Diplomat Hotel in Manama in August 2015 and accepted an envelope containing $20,000 from the businessman.
Rafaraci told the official he would be in touch and to “keep up the good work,” the warrant states.
The Navy official was working for the U.S. Army in March 2018 when he hit up MLS employees for another loan for $13,500, according to the warrant.
Rafaraci met the official at a Miami hotel in May 2018 and handed over an envelope with the requested money, the official said in a statement in connection to his guilty plea, according to the warrant.
The warrant states that evidence shows the Navy official “solicited the bribes … with the intent to be influenced in his official duties as Marine Liaison Officer.”
Rafaraci’s current whereabouts were not immediately clear this week.
While court records indicate he has been arrested outside the United States, U.S. Justice Department officials did not immediately clarify whether he had since been extradited.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.