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Navy bribery scandal trial held up by massive pile of documents

Twenty-five defendants are charged with a total of 242 specified acts. Attempting to prove their guilt will require prosecutors to go through thousands and thousands of documents -- literally terabytes of data. Defense attorneys, too, will need to parse those documents, as will the judge. Just the process of determining what, exactly, those documents say, will take months.

This is why a federal judge has delayed the trial of nine Navy officersaccused of contract bribery. The nine high-ranking officials are among 25 total people charged in connection with the alleged fraud and corruption involving Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia, a military contractor and the Navy's Seventh Fleet.

A number of Navy officials are accused of accepting bribes from Glenn Defense Marine Asia executives. The alleged bribes included extravagant meals -- with foie gras terrine, oxtail soup and duck leg confit -- along with $2,000 boxes of cigars, rare cognac, travel and "wild sex parties" with prostitutes. This was given in exchange for classified information that would allow the defense contractor to gain contracts to provide port services for the Seventh Fleet.

The Seventh Fleet contract would be extremely lucrative. The Navy's largest fleet, the Seventh operates in the West Pacific, Southeast Asia, and portions of Russia and the Indian Ocean. As many as 70 ships, 300 aircraft and 40,000 sailors and Marines make up the fleet. Docking, loading and unloading, repairs, maintenance, supplying and other services could be included in such a contract.

"The alleged conduct amounts to a staggering degree of corruption by the most prominent leaders of the Seventh Fleet - the largest fleet in the U.S. Navy - actively worked together as a team to trade secrets for sex, serving the interests of a greedy foreign defense contractor, and not those of their own country," according to the prosecutor.

The officials are charged with bribery, obstruction of justice, making false statements to federal officers, conspiracy and honest services fraud. If convicted, the defendants are facing decades behind bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

That last count is interesting. The crime of honest services fraud as defined in 18 U.S.C. ┬ž 1346 was found unconstitutional for most purposes by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2010 case Skilling v. United States. However, military officers have been held to stricter standards than other public officials in other cases.

What kinds of documents are being reviewed?

The press is generally not told precisely what evidence the government may have, but both the prosecution and the defense will need to review all available documents. Unfortunately, this could be anything from an email receipt for a box of cigars to a napkin with confidential data jotted on it. It most likely involves thousands of computerized documents and emails which the government has identified as evidence. However, the defense is not limited to reviewing the prosecution's evidence but can review all documents in the same categories as the evidence in an effort to identify pro-defense evidence. The judge and his staff will review at least the documents selected to be introduced as evidence.

Does a six-month delay deprive the defendants of their right to a speedy trial?

Technically, probably not. While there is a constitutional guarantee of a speedy and public trial, in reality trials can be delayed for a wide variety of purposes, especially when the purpose seems reasonable. The need for both sides to review terabytes' worth of data would likely be just the sort of thing that typically would justify a delay. Moreover, there is no word that the defendants have requested a speedy trial.

Anyone accused of a federal crime needs qualified, tough defense counsel as soon as possible. Even if you think you're only under investigation, get a lawyer. The federal government has tremendous power and resources it can bring to bear against you -- you need to start protecting your rights immediately.

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