A rear admiral in the U.S. Navy plead guilty to one felony charge in connection with a multi-million dollar Navy bribery scheme that has led to the arrest or imprisonment of more than a dozen U.S. Navy officers and Pentagon employees.
Rear Admiral Robert J. Gilbeau appeared in court Thursday in the downtown San Diego federal courthouse and entered a change of plea to one count of providing false statements to federal investigators.
He is out on a $75,000 bond.
Gilbeau is the highest-ranking U.S. Navy officer to be charged in this case so far. He is also believed to be the first active-duty Naval flag officer to ever be charged in a federal criminal court, according to a press release by the U.S. Attorney's office in San Diego.
He will have to surrender his passport, dispose of all of his firearms and will face travel restrictions.
Gilbeau's defense attorney David Benowitz gave NBC 7 San Diego the following statement regarding his client.
"Rear Admiral Robert Gilbeau has completed multiple combat deployments afloat and ashore during his distinguished 37-year Naval career. Among his many decorations, he was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart during the 2007 Iraq surge. However, Rear Admiral Gilbeau did in fact make a false statement during the course of an important investigation. In this unfortunate situation, he accepts responsibility for the decisions he made and for his conduct."
He previously told the Associated Press he would "fight hard" to ensure his client — a decorated Naval officer — does not spend any time behind bars.
NBC 7 has been following this investigation since September 2013.
A Malaysian contractor known as "Fat Leonard" Francis developed relationships with Navy higher-ups in order to gain access to warship itineraries. Francis ran Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd., or GDMA, out of Singapore and used his influence to overbill the U.S. Navy by more than $20 million for ship husbanding services in various Pacific ports.
Since Francis pleaded guilty to bribery charges in January 2015, federal officials have charged 14 people in the case. Allegations include accepting gifts ranging from cash, luxury travel, high-tech gadgets, dinners and prostitutes in exchange for emailing confidential ship movements or government investigation documents to Francis.
According to his plea agreement, Gilbeau admitted to lying when investigators asked him if he had ever received any gifts from Francis. He also pled guilty to destroying documents and computer files after learning that Francis and other Navy officials had been arrested in connection with the fraud and bribary charges in September 2013.
Ten have pleaded guilty, including Rear Admiral Robert J. Gilbeau, Retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edmond A. Aruffo, U.S. Navy Capt. Daniel Dusek, U.S. Navy Captain (Select) Michael Misiewicz, Lieutenant Commander Todd Malaki, NCIS Special Agent John Beliveau, Commander Jose Luis Sanchez and U.S. Navy Petty Officer First Class Dan Layug.
Still awaiting trial are former Department of Defense civilian employee Paul Simpkins, retired U.S. Navy Captain Michael Brooks, Lieutenant Commander Gentry Debord and Commander Bobby Pitts.
Brooks served as the U.S. Naval Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines from June 2006 to July 2008.
Three rear admirals in the U.S. Navy were reprimanded for wrongdoing in the Navy bribery scandal but will not face charges.
Commander of Carrier Strike Group 7 on USS Ronald Reagan Rear Admiral Michael Miller received a letter of censure along with Rear Admiral Terry Kraft, who was commanding officer on the same ship, and Rear Admiral David Pimpo, who once served as supply officer of the aircraft carrier.
A letter of this nature is viewed as a career-ending development for the officers.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy says only a select number of people have the honor of holding the rank of an Admiral but emphasized that those individuals are not above the law.
“Admiral Gilbeau lied to federal agents investigating corruption and fraud, and then tried to cover up his deception by destroying documents and files," she said. "Whether the evidence leads us to a civilian, to an enlisted service member or to an admiral, as this investigation expands we will continue to hold responsible all those who lied or who corruptly betrayed their public duties for personal gain.”
In his 37-year career with the U.S. Navy, Gilbeau has been awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service in Iraq in 2007.
The Associated Press reports that his most recent post was as a special assistant to the commander of the U.S. Naval Supply Systems Command.
He was reportedly moved to the position after the Navy learned he was being investigated.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Pletcher told NBC 7 that it is up to the U.S. Navy whether or now Gilbeau will lose his job.
But he says their investigation for this case is far from over.
"We are continuing a pace with our investigation. We are building momentum and we are going to continue to follow the facts and the law wherever it leads us," Pletcher said.
Gilbeau is scheduled to be sentenced on August 26.
He could face a maximum of five years in prison.