Navy bribery fugitive ‘Fat Leonard’ makes leisurely escape after living it up for 7 years under house arrest

Straight out of a spy-thriller, a 350-pound cancer patient nicknamed “Fat Leonard” cut off his ankle monitor and fled house arrest just weeks before he was to be sentenced in a high-profile Naval bribery case.

(Video Credit: NewsNation)

“Fat Leonard” was a Malaysian contractor who was caught after bribing Naval officials in order to secure contracts. He pleaded guilty in 2015 to defrauding the Navy of tens of thousands of dollars. He actually milked them for more than $35 million. And yet, many evidently didn’t take him as a serious flight risk.

But it wasn’t as though he slipped away in a lapse of a few minutes. “Fat Leonard” took days to load a U-Haul before cutting off his GPS ankle bracelet and taking off from his San Diego home according to NewsNation. Authorities suspect Leonard Francis headed to Mexico and may be on his way to Asia.

Officials are now demanding answers on why Francis wasn’t being watched 24 hours a day as his Sept. 22nd sentencing date approached. U.S. District Court Judge Janis Sammartino was so concerned that she requested that he be monitored and not leave the sight of authorities because he was such a severe flight risk.

Somehow, that didn’t happen.

Tom Wright, the host of the nine-part “Fat Leonard” podcast, pointed out that the latest development is “a huge black eye” for the U.S. government.

“This thing’s been a total mess for the Department of Justice and the Navy,” he asserted according to The Hill. Wright spoke with Francis for over 20 hours last year and knows him as well as anyone does.

Francis is the former president of Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia. He was originally arrested in 2013 and was convicted in 2015 for a grift that spanned decades where he reportedly bribed dozens of top-ranking Navy officers with cash, cigars, top-shelf alcohol, prostitutes, and parties in exchange for supply contracts. In the end, “Fat Leonard’s” case led to the first active-duty admiral being convicted of a federal crime and was a massive embarrassment for the Pentagon.

For seven years, Francis has been in legal limbo, living it up in a private home due to his renal cancer while awaiting a determination on his sentencing. He took a plea deal that was intended to implicate three-dozen military officials. Under it, he was responsible for paying for his own 24-hour security while wearing an ankle bracelet.

It is unknown if guards were on duty in the days leading up to Francis’ escape. He cut off his ankle monitor Sunday morning which alerted U.S. Pretrial Services, the agency responsible for monitoring him. The U.S. Marshals Service responded to his residence but he was already gone and there was no guard present.

Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Omar Castillo contends that his San Diego office received the call around 2:30 p.m., assembled a team, and was at the home in 30 minutes, according to The Hill. Unfortunately, that reportedly meant that seven hours elapsed from the time Francis cut off his monitor and the authorities arrived. He could be anywhere now.

“They’re not hard to take off, they’re not like a handcuff, they’re like a rubber band and you can just easily cut them off with some medical shears or some good scissors. It happens at times,” Castillo pointed out.

Castillo also explained that ankle monitors send an alert as soon as they are tampered with, but U.S. Marshals don’t get involved until a federal judge issues a warrant. Pretrial Services officials must request one.

“Fat Leonard” believed he was a scapegoat even though he pleaded guilty according to Wright.

“He admitted to the corruption in this case, but he believed that a lot of very senior admirals who were involved with him who took, you know, the dinners and the women and the gifts, were let off scot-free. … he felt misused and that he was getting a raw deal,” he remarked.

“That’s why I think he’s gone on the run — he was looking down the barrel thinking, ‘Okay, I could potentially get a bunch of more years in jail after already doing nine and that’s not fair. I’m going to take my chances,’” Wright posited.

Despite “Fat Leonard’s” girth, he could slip into oblivion with the right contacts. Nearly a dozen federal, state and local agencies are now after him including the FBI and NCIS.

A Navy spokesperson told The Hill that NCIS “is working jointly with the U.S. Marshals Service, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, and U.S. Attorney’s Office to locate and apprehend Mr. Francis.”

“They’ve allowed him to escape in almost a ‘Keystone Cops’ set of circumstances,” Wright astutely surmised.

Francis may be almost impossible to catch given his wealth and vast worldwide connections, Jason Forge, a former federal prosecutor in San Diego who worked on a number of high-profile corruption cases, told NPR.

“He doesn’t strike me as the type of person under these circumstances to make a spontaneous decision,” Forge said. “I’m assuming this means he has planned things out and he has the wherewithal to do so. He will probably be a free bird for a while.”

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