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Venezuela Returns “Fat Leonard” to US 15 Months After He Escaped Detention

Leonard Francis wanted poster
US Marshals issued a wanted poster after Francis brazenly walked away undetected from detention

Published Dec 20, 2023 7:13 PM by The Maritime Executive

 

Fugitive Leonard Francis, aka “Fat Leonard,” is coming back to the United States as part of a new extradition deal made between the White House and Venezuela. The return of Leonard, who famously fled the United States in September 2022 days before his sentencing, is part of a larger agreement that is also freeing ten Americans who have been detained in Venezuela.

According to the reports, Leonard who was caught trying to board a plane from Venezuela heading toward Russia will now be sent to a U.S. federal detention facility. He is awaiting sentencing in what the White House statement issued today called "a brazen bribery and corruption case.” The announcement said he will face justice for his lead role in the case defrauding the U.S. Navy. There was no mention if additional charges would be brought about his fleeing home detention days before his sentencing.

Francis was living under home detention in San Diego while he was assisting the U.S. in the prosecution of a broad range of U.S. Navy officers who were accused of providing naval information and helping Leonard win lucrative Navy repair and service contracts. In a carefully planned escape, Leonard who was required to wear an ankle monitor and report to the authorities, simply packed up the house. He cut off his ankle monitor and walked out of the house with it taking the U.S. authorities hours to determine he was gone.

An international manhunt was launched tracing Francis first to Mexico and then Cuba. He then reached Venezuela while the US Marshals issued a wanted poster for the man who famously weighed in at 400 lbs to earn his nickname. Interpol also became involved in the search and he was detected in the airport.

A Venezuelan court cleared the way for his extradition back to the United States in October 2022. Reports said the US had been given 60 days to make the request but the case was complicated because the U.S. has suspended relations with Venezuela.

This year, the U.S. was part of an international agreement that they said would set Venezuela on a path to free elections in 2024. There were numerous conditions in the deal including the release of political prisoners and the Biden administration is saying it used that agreement to insist on the release of Americans held by Venezuela. They included the extradition of Francis as part of the people to be sent to the U.S.

Among the 10 Americans being released are six individuals that the White House says were being wrongfully detained. Some of the Americans being released were part of what Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called an attempted coup and were jailed in 2020 for 20 years. 

“We are ensuring that the Venezuelan regime meets its commitments,” President Joe Biden said in his statement referring to the Barbados Agreement which called for the release of political opponents and individuals being wrongfully detained. “They have announced an electoral roadmap – agreed to by opposition parties – for competitive Presidential elections in 2024.  This a positive and important step forward.”

Venezuela also released 20 additional political prisoners following five that were released immediately after the agreement. 

President Biden in return agreed to grant clemency to Alex Saab, an alleged financier to Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro. The U.S. has also previously relaxed some of the sanctions including making it possible for Venezuela to again legally export oil and permitting tanker companies to transport oil from Venezuela.

Francis was facing a possible 25 years in jail when he was sentenced. He had pleaded guilty to his scheme and agreed to aid the U.S. in the prosecution of the Navy officers. In the end, the prosecution failed with the U.S. forced to drop charges for many of the senior officers.