September 24, 2022

SAN DIEGO (AP) — 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 international locations to discover a place the place he might develop into nearly untouchable for American authorities.

It virtually labored.

After slicing 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 keeping with Interpol Venezuela Director Basic Carlos Garate Rondon, who disclosed the arrest in a press release posted Wednesday on Instagram. He stated Francis can be handed over to the nation’s judicial authorities to start extradition proceedings.

Greg Rinckey, a former Military lawyer who’s now in non-public observe, stated he believes Francis was “making an attempt to play the angle of utilizing some international locations to get exterior the jurisdiction of the U.S. Marshals Service.”

“It seems to be like they caught him simply in time,” Rinckey stated. “If he made it to Russia, I don’t imagine the Russians would have turned him over to us.”

And whereas Venezuela and america have an extradition settlement, the U.S. authorities might face an uphill problem returning the fugitive to American soil. The Biden administration doesn’t 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. Regulation enforcement cooperation between the 2 international locations is uncommon.

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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 residence confinement to obtain medical care whereas he cooperated with the prosecution. Along 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 character wielded unimaginable affect as a foremost 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 gasoline 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 trade, commanders handed him categorised info and steered their ships, principally from the Navy’s seventh Fleet, to ports he managed so he might cowl up as a lot as $35 million in faux costs.

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

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It’s unknown if Francis turned to his Russian buddies for assist whereas on the lam.

A legislation enforcement official accustomed to the case advised The Related Press that authorities tracked down Francis utilizing a cellphone quantity they had been supplied. The official, who spoke on situation of anonymity as a result of they weren’t approved to debate the case publicly, stated Francis was situated Tuesday in a Caracas neighborhood.

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

The official stated Francis meant to board a aircraft to the Venezuelan Caribbean Island of Margarita, which Venezuela desires 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 stated 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 stated Francis later advised authorities his ultimate vacation spot was Russia.

It’s 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 images and movies of Navy officers.

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

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

His protection legal professional, Devin Burstein, advised the choose he plans to file a movement severing their ties as a result of 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 fair longer sentence, asking the court docket to notice his failure to seem at his sentencing listening to as ordered. That would add 5 years to his potential sentence of 25 years, if he’s in the end charged for not exhibiting up.

U.S. District Court docket Choose Janis Sammartino set a Dec. 14 standing listening to for Francis with the caveat that every 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 circumstances,” she stated.

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


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