A Navy captain described by his Pacific Fleet commander as the "standard-bearer in the public affairs community" was sentenced Friday to six months in prison for his role in the years-long "Fat Leonard" scandal that torpedoed the dozens of naval officers' careers.
Retired Capt. Jeffrey Breslau, 52, pleaded guilty in November to a felony charge that his business relationship with Leonard Glenn "Fat Leonard" Francis constituted a conflict of interest.
Breslau fought back tears Friday in a San Diego courtroom as he said he was sorry for what he had done and how it affected his wife, family and country.
After retiring from the Navy, Breslau said, he worked as a spokesman for the city of Johns Creek, Georgia, but after his guilty plea he left that job. Now he is working part-time at a fast food restaurant.
"I understand what rock bottom means," Breslau said.
The so-called "Fat Leonard" scandal rocked the Navy and tarnished the reputation of a generation of officers.
Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 to orchestrating a massive bribery and corruption scheme involving scores of naval officers. His company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, served as the Navy's primary ship husbanding agent in the western Pacific and, over the course of decades, over-charged the Navy $35 million in bogus or inflated fees.
A network of Navy officers and officials, including an NCIS agent, worked for years to thwart multiple investigations into Francis and his company and to steer Navy ships to ports controlled by his company. In exchange, Francis provided his network of corrupt officials with cash, travel, fine dining, lavish parties and prostitutes.
Francis has yet to be sentenced. He is on house arrest in San Diego and is a witness for the prosecution.
Breslau was one of the top public affairs officers for the Navy's Pacific Fleet, headquartered in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, from October 2009 through July 2012. According to a 2012 evaluation dated by Adm. Patrick Walsh, the commander of the Pacific Fleet, Breslau was the "best PAO in the Navy," and a "must-select" for the admiral ranks.
In March of that year Breslau had begun secretly working for Francis, who was, by then, the subject of an expansive criminal investigation.
Breslau worked for him for more than a year; he wrote, reviewed or edited at least 33 documents, and provided Francis with talking points for meetings with high ranking Navy officials. He also served as a ghostwriter for Francis' email communications to the Navy.
Francis paid him $65,000. Breslau never disclosed this arrangement to his superiors.
Francis was arrested in 2013 in a San Diego hotel room. In the five years since, 33 others have been charged in the scheme, with 22 pleading guilty. Hundreds more were investigated by the Navy.
U.S. Attorney Mark Pletcher, in comments during Breslau's sentencing hearing, compared him to a "hired hitman, using a pen instead of a sword," because Breslau used his Navy training to help Francis fight the Navy.
Breslau used Skype instead of email to communicate with Francis to conceal his activity, Pletcher noted.
"He knew the rules," Pletcher said.
U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino, in handing down Breslau's sentence, said his crime was "extraordinarily serious."
Breslau's attorneys in their comments compared their clients' fate to others in the case.
Other officers caught up in the Fat Leonard scandal have escaped prosecution. Of the estimated 500 officers investigated by the Department of Defense for their contacts with Francis, a majority were cleared of criminal wrongdoing.
Some did receive reprimands, reduction in rank or censure from the Navy.
In December, a two-star admiral in line for a Trump administration appointment was censured by Navy Secretary Richard Spencer.
In his letter, Spencer detailed instances in which retired Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery accepted meals and hotel stays in exchange for feeding Franci information on ship movements. Montgomery also lied to investigators in a written statement, Spencer said.
Montgomery was described in an email from someone at Francis' company-- perhaps Francis -- as a "top shelf" friend.
The most extensive prosecution in the scandal has yet to go to trial. Nine Navy and Marine Corps officers from the Navy's Seventh Fleet await trial together in San Diego.
A Breslau's attorney, Renee Stackhouse, told the Union-Tribune that the government is using Breslau to send a message to those still fighting federal charges.
"I think that the sentencing today was an attempt to act as a general deterrent," Stackhouse said. "This case was used to send a message to all the unresolved cases."
Those unresolved cases involve Francis' almost complete infiltration of the Seventh Fleet, where prosecutors say officers in key decision-making positions routinely partied with the contractor, traveled on his dime and were entertained by prostitutes.
William Cowden, Breslau's other attorney, told the judge his client did not accept bribes, hotel stays or prostitutes, nor did he provide classified information.
"This is a unique prosecution," Cowden said.
Stackhouse noted the disparity in consequences faced by Naval officers in federal court and those adjudicated by the Navy.
"It is disheartening for (Breslau) when you look at what they did and what he did," she said. "There seems to be a disparity in sentencing."
Breslau was fined $20,000 and ordered to pay back the Navy $65,000. He reports to prison in April.
After he is released from custody, Breslau will serve two years supervised release and perform 250 hours community service.
This article is written by Andrew Dyer from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.