US Marshals Service via AP, file
SAN DIEGO – A Malaysian defense contractor nicknamed “Fat Leonard” who masterminded one of the largest bribery scandals in U.S. military history has been arrested in Venezuela after fleeing his sentence, authorities said Wednesday.
The international manhunt for Leonard Glenn Francis ended with his arrest by Venezuelan authorities Tuesday morning at the Caracas airport as he was about to board a plane bound for another country, the U.S. Marshals Service said.
Francis had traveled to Venezuela from Mexico with a stopover in Cuba, Interpol’s director general for Venezuela, Carlos Garate Rondon, said in a statement posted on Instagram. Francis was on his way to Russia and was arrested at Caracas’ main international airport, the agency said.
The arrest came on the eve of a scheduled sentencing in California federal court for a bribery scheme spanning more than a decade involving dozens of U.S. Navy officers.
It was not immediately known when he might be extradited to the United States.
U.S. District Court Judge Janis Sammartino announced at Thursday’s hearing that Francis is in custody in Venezuela and a bail warrant has been issued.
“This turn of events raises a number of issues and will probably affect other cases as well,” he said. The trial of the four naval officers who went to trial and were found guilty is scheduled for October.
Prosecutors asked the court to note that Francis did not appear at the hearing as ordered, while defense attorneys told the court they would file a motion to sever those ties due to an irreparable breakdown of the attorney-client relationship. “
Sammartino held a Dec. 14 status hearing for Francis with the caveat that all parties could meet sooner, depending on how events unfold.
“I believe that’s all we can do this morning,” Sammartino said.
Given his poor relationship with Venezuela, it may be difficult for the US to get Francis back
The US government faces an uphill challenge to bring the fugitive back to American soil. The US government does not recognize the socialist government of Nicolas Maduro, does not have an embassy in the country, and has imposed crushing sanctions on the country that have further soured relations. Law enforcement cooperation between the two countries is rare.
Francis was under house arrest in San Diego when he cut off his GPS ankle bracelet and escaped on September 4. Ten U.S. agencies were searching for Francis, and authorities offered a $40,000 reward for his arrest.
US authorities also issued a red notice asking law enforcement agencies around the world to temporarily arrest anyone who has the option of extradition. Malaysia and Singapore both have extradition treaties with the United States.
Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 to offering prostitution services, luxury hotels, cigars, gourmet jobs and more than $500,000 in bribes to Navy officials and others to help his Singapore-based ship services company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd. or GDMA. Prosecutors say the company overcharged the Navy by at least $35 million to service the ships, many of which were diverted to Pacific ports it controlled.
Francis was able to remain under house arrest to receive medical treatment while cooperating with prosecutors. With his help, prosecutors secured convictions against 33 of 34 defendants, including more than two dozen naval officers.
The judge feared that Francis was trying to escape
Sammartino feared Francis’ candidacy when he rejected a request four years ago to allow him to remain under house arrest without 24-hour security guards.
The judge repeatedly stated that, despite Francis’s poor health, there must be security guards in place to keep him under house arrest.
According to the minutes of a closed-door hearing in February 2018, which was opened in January, Sammartino expressed concern that his name would come out if Francis fled and ended up back in Malaysia, asking “who allowed someone to do this without security.”
He expressed similar concerns on Dec. 17, 2020, after receiving a report that the home had been left unattended for nearly three hours, according to court records. The guard was on his lunch break and Francis apologized to the judge for the accident.
Deputy U.S. Comptroller Omar Castillo said officers found no security guards when they arrived at Francis’ home in a tony San Diego neighborhood about seven hours after the ankle monitor was removed. The device, presumably removed with heavy scissors, was found in the home.
Castillo said someone called the San Diego Police Department, which dispatched officers to the home on the afternoon of Sept. 4. Officers found the home unoccupied and contacted the U.S. Pretrial Service, the federal agency responsible for his detention. US Marshals Service.
Neighbors reported seeing U-Haul trucks coming and going from the home a day or two before the escape, Castillo said.