US Marshals Service via AP, File
SAN DIEGO — A Malaysian defense contractor called “Fat Leonardo” who orchestrated one of the biggest bribery scandals in US military history was arrested in Venezuela after he fled before sentencing, officials said Wednesday.
An international investigation into Leonard Glenn Francis ended Tuesday morning when Venezuelan authorities arrested him at Caracas airport for trying to board a flight to another country, the US Marshals Service said.
Interpol Venezuela Executive Director Carlos Galate London said in a statement posted on Instagram that Francis had traveled from Mexico to Venezuela and made a stopover in Cuba. The agency said they were arrested at Caracas’ main international airport.
The arrest comes on the eve of a scheduled ruling in federal court in California over a bribery scheme that lasted more than a decade and involved dozens of U.S. Navy officers.
There was no immediate word on when he would be extradited to the United States.
At Thursday’s sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Janice Sammartino told the court that Francis was being held in Venezuela and that a “warrant of arrest without bail” had been issued.
“This chain of events will cause some problems and obviously affect other cases,” she said. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for October.
The prosecutor asked the court to point out that Francis had failed to appear at the sentencing hearing as ordered, but the defense attorney said, “I plan to file a motion to terminate my relationship with Francis,” he informed the court.
Sammartino set up a status hearing for Francis for December 14th with the caveat that all parties could meet sooner depending on how events unfold.
“I think that’s all we can achieve this morning,” said Sammartino.
It may be difficult for the US to get Francis back given its bad relations with Venezuela
The U.S. government faces the daunting task of returning fugitives to U.S. soil. The US government does not recognize Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government and imposes crippling sanctions on countries that do not have embassies in the country and further strain relations. Law enforcement cooperation between the two countries is rare.
Francis was under house arrest in San Diego, but on September 4, he cut off the GPS bracelet on his ankle and escaped. His ten agencies in the United States searched for Francis, and authorities offered him a $40,000 bounty for his arrest.
U.S. authorities have also issued red notices calling on law enforcement agencies around the world to make provisional arrests of potential extraditionists. Malaysia and Singapore both have extradition agreements with the United States.
In 2015, Francis provided prostitution services, luxury hotels, cigars, gourmet meals, and bribes of more than $500,000 to naval officials, among others, to sell his services to Singapore-based ship services company Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd. (GDMA). pleaded guilty to assisting Prosecutors said the company overcharged the Navy by at least $35 million for the maintenance of the vessel.
Francis was allowed under house arrest to receive medical care while cooperating with the prosecution. With his help, prosecutors won convictions for 33 of his 34 defendants, among whom he included more than 20 naval officers.
the judge feared Francis would try to escape
Sammartino feared Francis would run for office four years ago when she refused a request to be allowed to be under house arrest without 24-hour security.
The judge repeatedly insisted that a security guard must be present at the scene for Francis to be placed under house arrest despite his poor health.
According to the minutes of a closed-door hearing in February 2018 that were made public in January, Sammartino said his name would come up if Francis fled and someone would “let someone do this without security.” He expressed concern that if he asked, “Who is this?”, he would return to Malaysia.”
She expressed similar concerns on December 17, 2020, according to court transcripts.
Authorities did not find the security guards when they arrived at Francis’ suburban San Diego home about seven hours after he removed the ankle monitor, said deputy commissioner Omar Castillo. A device was found in his home that had apparently been removed with heavy scissors.
Castillo said someone called the San Diego Police Department, who dispatched officers to the home on the afternoon of September 4. Officers found his home empty and contacted the U.S. Pretrial Services, the federal agency responsible for his confinement. US Marshall Service.
Neighbors reported seeing U-Haul trucks drive in and out of their homes one to two days before the evacuation, Castillo said.