Navy bribery scheme leader ‘Fat Leonard’ arrested in Venezuela, ending 16 days on the run

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Malaysian defense contractor Leonard Glen Francis, known as “Fat Leonard”, who escaped from house arrest in San Diego this month, was arrested in Venezuela on Tuesday morning as he traveled to Caracas, according to the US Marshals Service. Was about to board a plane at the international airport. ,

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Francis, who carried out the worst bribery and corruption scandal in US Navy history, was led by Russia, a top Interpol official in Venezuela. posted on social media, He had traveled through Mexico and Cuba and was captured at Simón Bolívar International Airport in the Venezuelan capital.

Supervisory Deputy US Marshal Omar Castillo said on Wednesday that the arrests were made after international police agency Interpol issued a “red notice” requesting law enforcement to trace and arrest someone.

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Francis escaped house arrest in San Diego on September 4 by cutting off his GPS ankle bracelet. He has been the object of an international search, with Marshall and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service offering a combined $40,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

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Francis’ defense attorney, Devin Burstein, declined to comment on Wednesday. A spokesman for the US Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Castillo said he could not confirm where the flight Francis was trying to board was going. Francis is now in the custody of the authorities in Venezuela.

He will have to be extradited back to the US, which may take some time. Castillo said the State Department and the Justice Department would lead the extradition effort.

The US and Venezuela have a limited extradition treaty, although it is unclear whether tensions between the nations could complicate the process.

No US marshals were in Venezuela as of Wednesday, according to Castillo, who said he did not believe any US officials had seen or had contact with Francis.

Journalist Tom Wright, Joe recorded a podcast With Francis when he was imprisoned at home, previously reported Francis was in Venezuela on Monday. According to Wright, Francis was in the company of one of his adult sons.

News of his arrest came a day before the date Francis was set to be sentenced on bribery and conspiracy charges in San Diego federal court. For more than a decade, he orchestrated a comprehensive corruption scheme In which US Navy officers were bribed with gifts, cash, and sex, and in return aided the ship-service business of Francis, which controlled ports throughout Southeast Asia.

The scheme defrauded taxpayers of at least $35 million and convicted nearly three dozen Navy personnel in the worst scandal in the services’ history.

Francis’ plea deal called for him to forfeit the $35 million he had given to the government. Although he paid $5 million of that several years ago, he fled without paying the rest. He still owes the government $30 million, according to Joseph Mancano, a lawyer for one of the convicted Navy officers.

Francis was arrested in 2013 as part of a federal sting in a hotel room in San Diego. Following his guilty plea, and several health bouts including kidney cancer, Francis was released on medical furlough and was under house arrest since at least 2018.

While both behind bars and later in home confinement, Francis served as an associate witness for federal prosecutors, who continued to build cases against several others involved in the scheme. His sentencing date was postponed for years as he assisted prosecutors and was expected to be his star turn on the witness stand in the trial this year against five former naval officers.

Francis’ escape opens the door for him to face a more severe punishment than before.

How long his sentence was going to be is unknown, but by cooperating with the government, Francis was hoping for a significant reduction in the potential 25-year prison term he could face under the three offenses for which he was convicted.

That agreement is now likely to be void. It includes a clause stating that nearly a dozen acts, including failing to appear in court or committing new offenses, would make Francis a breach of the deal.

In that case, the government may file any charge including “dismissal, promised to be dismissed, or not filed as a result of this agreement”.




Source: www.latimes.com

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