Fat Leonard: Navy bribery scheme mastermind captured in Venezuela after escaping house arrest in San Diego

Francis is currently being held by authorities in Venezuela and U.S. government officials have begun proceedings with Venezuela in an attempt to seek extradition, Supervising Deputy U.S. Marshal Omar Castillo told CNN Wednesday.

US federal law enforcement previously filed a so-called “Red Notice” with the multinational police organization INTERPOL after Francis went on the run earlier this month, Castillo said. A Red Notice is a global request to participating INTERPOL members to provisionally arrest a wanted suspect pending further legal action, such as extradition.

The former contractor escaped house arrest in San Diego two weeks ago by cutting off his GPS monitoring ankle bracelet, Castillo told CNN at the time.

He escaped just three weeks before he was due to be sentenced.

Francis arrived in Venezuela after traveling through Mexico and Cuba and was arrested at Simón Bolívar International Airport near Caracas while trying to travel to Russia, according to a social media post from Venezuelan law enforcement.

Francis, whose nickname “Fat Leonard” came from his then-400-pound weight, pleaded guilty in 2015 to bribery and fraud.

The investigation into the corruption scandal began in 2013 and affected capitals and ports across the Pacific, including Singapore, Tokyo, Bangkok and Manila. During the investigation, multiple Navy officials were arrested and accused of accepting cash, prostitutes and all-expenses-paid trips in exchange for sending ships to ports where Francis’ contracting company operated, providing services such as fuel and tugboats. .

He was originally scheduled to appear before a federal judge in San Diego on Thursday, but a spokesman for the US attorney’s office for the Southern District of California told CNN that the judge was informed that the suspect is in custody in Venezuela. A further hearing is scheduled for December 14.

It remains unclear whether and how quickly Venezuelan authorities may cooperate with the US government’s extradition request. While the two nations have an extradition treaty, it only covers a limited series of crimes. And the refusal of the Biden administration to recognize the regime of Nicolás Maduro could pose diplomatic challenges to the request of the US Department of Justice for cooperation of Venezuelan authorities.

This story was updated Thursday with additional developments.

CNN’s Cheri Mossburg and David Culver contributed to this report.