Who is “fat Leonard”? Fugitive at the center of the US Navy corruption case arrested in Venezuela

A Malaysian defense contractor nicknamed “Fat Leonard” who orchestrated one of the biggest corruption scandals in US military history was arrested in Venezuela after fleeing before his sentencing, authorities said Wednesday.

The international search for Leonard Glenn Francis, 57, ended with his arrest by Venezuelan authorities on Tuesday morning at Caracas airport as he was about to board a plane to another country, the States Marshal Service said. United.

Here are some details about Francis’s extraordinary case and about the escape a few days before his sentencing.

Who is he?

Francis built a huge business, largely by fulfilling U.S. military contracts for supplies through his Singapore-based naval services company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd.

After some financial inconsistencies began to be detected by some US Navy officials in 2010, an investigation followed. Francis was lured to a meeting at a San Diego hotel three years later and arrested, also accused of five other company employees of him.

Prosecutors said the company overcharged the navy by at least US $ 35 million. He pleaded guilty in 2015 to offering prostitution services, luxury hotels, cigars, gourmet meals, and more than $ 500,000 US in bribes to navy officials and others.

Earning his nickname due to his stature – six foot eight, which is believed to exceed 300 pounds – Francis participated in Fat Leonard, a Project Brazen podcast released last year.

Francis often bragged about his exploits to reporter Tom Wright on the podcast, but said he felt “betrayed” in how his case emerged.

“I’ve been a loyal person, contractor, defense contractor and I’ve done a lot over the past 30 years,” he said. “Supporting hundreds if not thousands of ships, hundreds of thousands of sailors and Marines in all kinds of places. I never caused any damage to the United States. It was just a financial thing.”

Salacious details embarrass the Pentagon

The case was a huge black eye for the US military, highlighting corruption within the ranks and raising security concerns given the information Francis was aware of.

Navy officers provided Francis with confidential information that helped him beat competitors, and in some cases, commanders steered ships to Pacific ports where his company could charge false fees and taxes, prosecutors said. .

A US federal lawyer called it in 2017 “a betrayal and betrayal of the US Navy in epic proportions.”

The details of Francis’ pleading and chatter with the navy didn’t make a boring read.

US assistant prosecutors Mark Pletcher, left, and Robert Huie, right, speak out on January 15, 2015, outside the San Diego federal court, about Francis’ guilty plea on bribery charges. Dozens of US Navy officers have been convicted on various charges following the so-called Fat Leonard scandal. (Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press)

A meal during a Hong Kong harbor visit in 2006 cost $ 20,435 in the United States. A dinner on a port call in Singapore that year included foie gras, oxtail soup, cognac costing around $ 2,000 a bottle, and cigars at $ 2,000 a box.

And then it was a 2007 stopover in the Philippines that included allegations of wild escapades involving navy officers and several prostitutes at a Manila hotel. Francis also owned a decommissioned British ship that was often used as a party boat to entertain senior US Navy officials, the courts have heard.

Questioned about home confinement

The fact that he escaped and the circumstances surrounding him aggravated matters, albeit this time for the service of US marshals and federal authorities.

With Francis’ help, prosecutors secured the sentencing of 33 of the 34 defendants, including more than two dozen naval officers. Francis faced 25 years in prison and was to be sentenced on 22 September.

While in custody, he was hospitalized and treated for kidney cancer and other medical problems, undergoing unspecified procedures, according to court transcripts.

He was placed on what is called medical leave. Four years ago, United States District Court Judge Janis Sammartino feared that Francis might escape and repeatedly stated that he could only remain under house arrest if private security guards were on site 24 hours a day, according to a transcript of one. closed-door hearing in February 2018 which opened in January of this year.

It raised similar concerns at another hearing on 10 December. 17, 2020, after receiving a report that the house was left with no one guarding it for nearly three hours. The guard said he had been on a long lunch break, according to a court transcript.

The judge was also surprised to learn in a closed-door hearing that Francis’ three children and his mother lived in the main residence of the property where he was staying.

How did he escape?

The San Diego Police Department received a call on September 4. After finding the house empty, the police contacted the United States Preliminary Services, the federal agency responsible for its confinement, which then called the United States Marshal Service.

A spokesperson for the US Marshals said agency officials found no security personnel at home when they got home, which was estimated to be about seven hours after Francis removed his ankle monitor with heavy scissors. The device was found in the house.

“That’s the risk when defendants are being monitored by GPS, you know,” US Deputy Marshal Omar Castillo told The Associated Press. “Not everyone cuts their GPS bracelets, but this can happen.”

Neighbors reported seeing U-Haul trucks coming and going from the house a day or two before the escape.

what happened next

There were fears that Francis, with his wealth and knowledge, could end up in Asia.

But his home is about a 40-minute drive from the Mexican border, where vehicles flock to Tijuana and are only haphazardly stopped.

While the United States and Venezuela are not allies, Francis was arrested Wednesday at the country’s main international airport under a red notification requested by the United States for bribery and bribery crimes, the head of Interpol in Venezuela said in a published statement. on Instagram.

He arrived in Venezuela from Mexico, with a stopover in Cuba, and intended to continue to Russia, the Interpol statement said. The authorities will now start his extradition procedure, he added.