Officers: Navy Bribery Case Fugitive ‘Fats Leonard’ Tried to Get to Russia

SAN DIEGO — Since escaping two weeks in the past, officers say the fugitive Malaysian protection contractor nicknamed “Fats Leonard” — who orchestrated one of many U.S. Navy’s largest bribery scandals — zipped between nations to discover a place the place he might turn into nearly untouchable for American authorities.

It nearly labored.

After reducing off an ankle monitor and slipping away from home arrest in San Diego on Sept. 4, U.S. and Venezuelan officers say Leonard Glenn Francis went throughout the border into Mexico, then traveled to Cuba and Venezuela, the place he was arrested Tuesday at Simón Bolívar Worldwide Airport exterior Caracas.

Francis was planning to journey to Russia, in response to Interpol Venezuela Director Common Carlos Garate Rondon, who disclosed the arrest in a press release posted Wednesday on Instagram. He mentioned Francis can be handed over to the nation’s judicial authorities to start extradition proceedings.

Greg Rinckey, a former Army lawyer who’s now in non-public observe, mentioned he believes Francis was “attempting to play the angle of utilizing some nations to get exterior the jurisdiction of the U.S. Marshals Service.”

“It seems like they caught him simply in time,” Rinckey mentioned. “If he made it to Russia, I do not consider the Russians would have turned him over to us.”

And whereas Venezuela and the US have an extradition settlement, the U.S. authorities might face an uphill problem returning the fugitive to American soil. The Biden administration does not formally acknowledge President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist authorities, has no embassy in Venezuela and has imposed crushing sanctions on the nation which have additional embittered relations. Legislation enforcement cooperation between the 2 nations is uncommon.

There was no speedy phrase on when Francis may be extradited to the U.S.

The arrest got here on the eve of his scheduled sentencing in a federal court docket in California for a bribery scheme that lasted years.

Francis pleaded responsible in 2015 and had been allowed to stay in dwelling confinement to obtain medical care whereas he cooperated with the prosecution. Together with his assist, prosecutors secured convictions of 33 of 34 defendants, together with greater than two dozen Navy officers.

The towering man with a large girth and gregarious persona wielded unbelievable affect as a major level of contact for U.S. Navy ships at ports throughout Asia. His household’s ship servicing enterprise, Singapore-based Glenn Protection Marine Asia Ltd. or GDMA, equipped meals, water and gas to vessels for many years. He plied officers with Kobe beef, costly cigars, live performance tickets and wild intercourse events at luxurious inns from Thailand to the Philippines. In alternate, commanders handed him categorized data and steered their ships, largely from the Navy’s seventh Fleet, to ports he managed so he might cowl up as a lot as $35 million in faux fees.

Amongst these he befriended was a Russian diplomat, Francis informed podcaster Tom Wright, who created a nine-part collection on the case. In an episode posted final October, Francis mentioned he lived solely a “stone’s throw” from the Russian Embassy in Singapore, and the Russian diplomat would cease by his dwelling uninvited to drop off vodka and different presents.

It is unknown if Francis turned to his Russian mates for assist whereas on the lam.

A regulation enforcement official accustomed to the case informed The Related Press that authorities tracked down Francis utilizing a cellphone quantity they have been offered. The official, who spoke on situation of anonymity as a result of they weren’t licensed to debate the case publicly, mentioned Francis was situated Tuesday in a Caracas neighborhood.

Venezuelan authorities deployed a workforce of officers on the airport after a cab driver tipped them off that Francis was leaving a lodge and headed there.

The official mentioned Francis supposed to board a airplane to the Venezuelan Caribbean Island of Margarita, which Venezuela needs to show into a preferred vacation spot for Russian vacationers due to its pristine seashores accessible by ferry or flights from the mainland. The federal government mentioned final month it plans to supply 5 flights per week between Margarita and Moscow beginning Oct. 1. Indicators in Russian can already be seen on the island.

The official mentioned Francis later informed authorities his remaining vacation spot was Russia.

It is unclear if Francis had contacts in Russia providing to assist, and if he did, what they wished in return. Francis bragged about nonetheless holding compromising photographs and movies of Navy officers.

“What actually frightened the US essentially the most was these officers being corrupted by me, that they might be corruptible by the overseas powers,” Francis mentioned in one of many podcast’s episodes.

His sentencing listening to was nonetheless held Thursday to take care of the altering scenario. When he returns, Francis will want new attorneys.

His protection legal professional, Devin Burstein, informed the decide he plans to file a movement severing their ties resulting from an “irreparable breakdown within the attorney-client relationship.” Burstein didn’t point out his shopper’s arrest in Venezuela.

And when Francis does return, prosecutors indicated he’ll face a good longer sentence, asking the court docket to notice his failure to seem at his sentencing listening to as ordered. That might add 5 years to his potential sentence of 25 years, if he’s finally charged for not displaying up.

U.S. District Courtroom Decide Janis Sammartino set a Dec. 14 standing listening to for Francis with the caveat that each one events might meet sooner relying on how occasions unfold.

“This flip of occasions raises a number of points, and clearly will have an effect on different instances,” she mentioned.

Sentencing hearings are scheduled in October for 4 Navy officers who went to trial and have been convicted within the case.


Garcia Cano reported from Caracas, Venezuela. AP author Joshua Goodman in Miami contributed to this report.

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