'Fat Leonard' Recaptured Just Before He Made It to Russia

Military contractor traveled through Mexico, Cuba, was busted in Venezuela after fleeing California
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 6, 2022 8:42 AM CDT
Updated Sep 22, 2022 6:11 AM CDT

(Newser) Update: The escaped criminal known as Fat Leonard made it all the way from California to Venezuela, and would have continued on to Russia, before his capture Tuesday. Leonard Glenn Francis, the Malaysian military contractor who orchestrated the worst corruption scandal in Navy history, was awaiting sentencing for bribery and corruption charges when he fled house arrest in San Diego earlier this month. The 57-year-old reached Mexico via a stopover in Cuba then flew on to Venezuela, where he was arrested at the Caracas airport trying to board a flight to Russia, per the BBC and Guardian. Francis, who had been under a red notice by the US, is to be extradited back to the US. Our original story from Sept. 6 follows:

It's been nearly a decade since Leonard Glenn Francis, the military contractor known as "Fat Leonard," was arrested for his role in one of the worst corruption scandals the US Navy has ever seen. Francis was set to be sentenced in less than three weeks, after pleading guilty in 2015 to bribing military officials for intel and their influence, which in turn led to his company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, scoring lucrative contracts that overcharged the Navy by $35 million. Now, a twist in that schedule: Francis, who'd been on house arrest since 2018 due to medical issues, cut off his GPS-monitoring ankle bracelet over the weekend and fled his San Diego home, reports CBS 8 San Diego.

Omar Castillo of the US Marshals Service said Monday that it appeared Francis took off sometime Sunday morning, per the San Diego Union-Tribune, which first reported on the situation. Police officials say that after the federal agency remotely tracking Francis noted something was wrong with his ankle bracelet, Francis' attorney called the police for a welfare check—but when officers entered the Torrey Highlands residence, located in a gated community, Francis and all his belongings were gone, except for the "sheared" ankle bracelet. Neighbors tell authorities they'd seen U-Haul trucks at the home in the previous days, though it's not clear if they knew Francis lived there. His home was guarded by security that he paid for, which had been a bone of contention among prosecutors, per the Washington Post.

"He was planning this out, that's for sure," Castillo says, adding he fears Francis—known as "Fat Leonard" due to his large build—may have already crossed into Mexico. A manhunt is now underway by local law enforcement, the US Marshals Service, and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Castillo didn't offer any clues as to where authorities think Francis might be; he says the fugitive's vanishing is a pretrial violation, basically for jumping bail, per NBC News. Devin Burstein, Francis' defense attorney, informed the Post in an email that he had "no comment at this time." Francis' sentencing date is set for Sept. 22. (Read more Fat Leonard stories.)

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