WASHINGTON — One of the highest-ranking officers in the US Navy appears to be on the verge of being cleared of wrongdoing in the Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) corruption investigations, defense officials said, even as other admirals receive minor forms of punishment or remain under scrutiny.
Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of US Pacific Command (PACOM), was under investigation first by the Department of Justice and then the Navy. His request for retirement was held up pending the results of the investigation, defense officials confirmed.
Another officer, two-star Rear Adm. Kevin Donegan, also is expected to be cleared, defense sources added.
The moves come several weeks after the Navy censured three two-star rear admirals for misconduct in the scandal. Earlier this month, two other rear admirals were issued non-punitive letters of caution by the Navy.
Spearheaded by Justice officials with the Southern District of California, the probes into the activities of GDMA, its chief executive, Leonard Glenn Francis — known widely as Fat Leonard — and a host of US Navy officers and civilians have been ongoing for at least three years. A number of officers and civilians have been convicted or pleaded guilty to charges of criminal activity, including Francis, but to date no admirals — known in the Navy as flag officers — have been found criminally culpable.
A two-step process has emerged as the structure for the probes. Justice officials in California have the lead for criminal investigations of individuals. If no indication of criminal activity is found, a Navy review board, known as the Consolidated Disposition Authority (CDA), looks at the case. The CDA is headed by Adm. John Richardson, head of Naval Reactors.
Locklear, Donegan, the three admirals censured in February and the two cautioned in March have all come through both processes.
Locklear is well known in the Navy. An imposing figure, he has headed up the high-profile US Pacific Command since March 2012. In an era where the US has increasingly focused on the Pacific theater, he's occupied a key post in exercising US military and political policies.
But the hold on Locklear has kept him in his PACOM position for months beyond the point where he would have been relieved, creating a personnel backup. His successor, Adm. Harry Harris, has been unable to leave his post as the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, while the newly named Pac Fleet commander, Vice Adm. Scott Swift, continues as director of the Navy Staff in Washington, unable to take up his new post in Pearl Harbor.
Neither Harris nor Swift have been under investigation or review, according to defense sources.
Donegan, working at the Pentagon as the acting director of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy, had been slated for a third star and a numbered fleet. Having received a clean slate from the CDA, it's expected the Navy will soon nominate Donegan for a third star.
It is not clear what specific allegations — if any — prompted the probes into Locklear or Donegan's conduct. A Justice spokesman in Washington declined to comment on the investigations, while a spokesperson for the US District Court in San Diego declined to respond to emails or phone messages.
The letters of caution issued to the two rear admirals in early March will likely have opposite effects on those officer's careers. Assuming no further problems are encountered, one of the officers is expected to continue in his career and be nominated for promotion. As letters of caution are not normally made public, Defense News is honoring the Navy's request to withhold the officer's name.
However, Rear Adm. Tim Giardina, already in hot water for excessive gambling and altering casino poker chips, is expected to put in for retirement. He was fired in the fall of 2013 from his position as the No. 2 commander of US nuclear forces at US Strategic Command and found guilty in May 2014 of two counts of conduct unbecoming to an officer. Suspended from his three-star vice admiral post and without a specific job, he was reduced in rank last year to two stars.
An Associated Press story in November reported that prior to being caught in June 2013 using phony chips at the Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Giardina was spending an average of 15 hours per week at the casino tables.
The letters of caution are not as severe as the letters of censure issued in February to three other flag officers. Rear Adms. Mike Miller, Terry Kraft and David Pimpo were all punished for conduct during the January to July 2006 deployment of the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan. Miller was the strike group commander, Kraft the carrier's commanding officer and Pimpo the ship's supply officer on that cruise.
Miller, as a three-star vice admiral, asked to retire last summer when he stepped down as the superintendent of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. He was kept on the rolls, however, pending the results of the investigations, in the process losing his third star and reverting to a two-star rear admiral rank.
The retirement requests for Miller, Kraft and Pimpo are all working through the Navy's bureaucracy, Navy officials said, and will eventually need to be approved by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus — as are most flag officer retirements.
It's not known if any other cases are now under active review by the CDA. Sources said Justice continues to have about 30 officers under investigation, about half of whom are admirals.
Two of those officers are Vice Adm. Ted Branch, deputy chief of naval operations for information dominance and the director of naval intelligence, and Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, corporate director of information dominance. Both officers continue to work with those titles, but have had their security clearances suspended pending the results of the investigations.
Branch and Loveless are not the only high-ranking intelligence community officers under investigation, Navy sources confirmed. Rear Adm. Elizabeth Train, commander of the Office of Naval Intelligence, reportedly is being investigated by the Navy's Office of the Inspector General looking into allegations of a poor command climate. She continues carrying out her duties, however.
The Navy's leadership and the flag community are increasingly frustrated by the pace of the criminal investigations, but feel there is little they can do about it.
"We are on the timetable of the US attorney's office in San Diego in terms of how quickly we get to these things. And that's been a frustration, because it's taken a long, long time," Mabus told the Senate Armed Services Committee March 10.
A few weeks earlier he expressed the same sentiment to the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee.
"Because the investigation is taking so long, because the decision on the people who may or may not be implicated is taking so long, it's frustrating, because it limits our ability in some cases for people to retire or for people to move around," Mabus said Feb. 26. "We are completely on the timetable of the US attorney's office in terms of when these things come out.
"If the timetable stays as slow as it is, we're gonna have some problems in the future," he added.