“Fat Leonard” Caught in Venezuela While Trying to Reach Russia
Interpol Venezuela is reporting the capture of Leonard Francis, the mastermind behind the U.S. Navy bribery scandal known as “Fat Leonard.” Two and a half weeks ago, Francis had escaped house arrest in San Diego by cutting off his monitoring device just days before he was scheduled to be sentenced.
After his escape, the U.S. Marshall Service launched a search for Francis and issued an international alert suspecting he had fled the United States. Among the possible destinations they said were Singapore and Malaysia. Interpol reports acting on a “red alert” issued by the United States Francis was arrested at the Simón Bolívar international airport near Caracas as he was about to leave the country.
Interpol is reporting that Francis fled the United States first entering Mexico, which was just miles from the San Diego home where he was being detained before he fled on September 4. From there, they tracked him to Cuba where he had a stopover before arriving in Venezuela. Francis was attempting to board a flight to Russia when he was arrested on September 20.
"We were tracking him since he left San Diego,” Omar Castillo, a supervisory deputy U.S. Marshal in San Diego told WFMY TV News in San Diego. “I can tell you he did go to Mexico. I can tell you that he did board a flight within Mexico. We’ve been doing this for a long time. You can try to go to other countries but we can still find you and bring you back to justice."
Francis had been under house arrest in the United States after he pleaded guilty to crimes including bribery and corruption. In the now famous case, he plied officers of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet with lavish parties, hotel stays, and prostitutes in exchange for information and influence helping his company to gain lucrative Navy contracts. He admitted to providing about $500,000 in bribes to Navy officials and receiving tens of millions of dollars in contracts from the U.S. Navy.
Francis’s sentencing had been delayed several times while he was undergoing medical treatments in the United States and cooperating with prosecutors in cases brought against Navy officers. The last of the trials concluded in San Diego in June and Francis was due to be sentenced on September 22. He was facing up to 25 years in jail.
Neighbors told the U.S. Marshall Service that they had seen rental trucks at the San Diego house in the days leading up to Francis fleeing. The Marshall Service believes Francis had been planning his escape.
Venezuela reports that Francis was handed over to judicial authorities in order to initiate extradition procedures to return him to the United States.