SAN DIEGO (AP) — Three weeks before his sentencing, the Malaysian defense contractor at the center of one of the largest corruption investigations in U.S. military history made an escape as stunning and brazen as the case. herself: U-Haul trucks were seen at her home in an upscale San Diego neighborhood before Leonard Glenn Francis, known as ‘Fat Leonard’, ripped off her ankle monitor and disappeared
Nearly a dozen US law enforcement agencies were looking for Francis on Tuesday. But officials acknowledged he may already be in Mexico and may be on his way back to Asia.
Four years ago, US District Court Judge Janis Sammartino feared Francis was on the run when she denied his lawyer’s request to allow him to be placed under house arrest without 24-hour security guards. 24 monitor the sick defense contractor. At the time, Francis was cooperating with prosecutors as they pursued charges against dozens of Navy officers who had accepted bribes in exchange for classified information that gave the maintenance company Francis ships in Asia an advantage in obtaining military contracts.
Asked about the daring escape on Tuesday, his attorney, Devin Burstein, who sought more leniency for his client, said: ‘At this time I have no comment, sorry.
Sammartino has repeatedly maintained that Francis, who was in poor health and needed medical attention, could only remain under house arrest if private security guards were on hand. At one point, she expressed fear that if he were to escape and end up “back in Malaysia for some reason” his name would come up if someone asked “who let someone do this without no security,” according to a transcript of a closed-door hearing in February 2018 that was unsealed in January.
She raised similar concerns at another hearing on December 17, 2020, after receiving a report that the house was left unattended for nearly three hours, according to the court transcript. The guard said he had taken a long lunch break and Francis apologized to the judge for the incident.
It was unclear whether 24-hour security guards were still in place over the weekend.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego declined to comment, referring calls to the U.S. Marshals Service. Deputy Supervising U.S. Marshal Omar Castillo said his officers found no security guards at the home when they arrived Sunday afternoon, nearly seven hours after Francis allegedly removed his ankle monitor with heavy scissors. The device was found at the home.
Castillo said someone called the San Diego Police Department, who sent officers to the home shortly before 2 p.m. to check. Castillo said he didn’t know who made the call. After finding the house empty, police contacted US Pre-Trial Services, the federal agency responsible for its containment, which then called the US Marshals Service.
Castillo said he wasn’t sure if the security guards still had to be there. He said neighbors reported seeing U-Haul trucks coming and going from the house a day or two before the breakout. Preliminary services declined to comment or answer questions.
The house is about a 40 minute drive from the Mexican border, where vehicles flock to Tijuana and are only stopped at random. Castillo said Mexican authorities were put on alert and 10 U.S. local, state and federal law enforcement agencies were looking for Francis on Tuesday.
Castillo said the GPS ankle monitors are easy to remove and don’t prevent people from escaping. He added that he wouldn’t be surprised if Francis was already in Mexico because it’s easy to drive into the country and not get arrested.
“That’s the risk that’s taken when defendants are under GPS surveillance, you know,” he said. “They don’t cut all of their GPS bracelets, but it can happen.”
It was a surprising turn in a case already full of shocking revelations.
Nearly ten years ago, Francis was arrested at a San Diego hotel as part of a federal undercover operation. Investigators say he and his company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, defrauded the Navy of more than $35 million by bribing dozens of high-ranking Navy officers with booze, sex, lavish parties and other gifts. In exchange, the officers, including the first active-duty admiral to be convicted of a federal crime, covered up the scheme in which Francis would overtax ships’ supplies or charge bogus services at ports he controlled in South East Asia.
The case, which delved into salacious details about servicemen cheating on their wives and stalking prostitutes, was embarrassing for the Pentagon. He was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which offered authority independent of the military justice system.
Francis was due to be sentenced on September 22 after working with prosecutors for years, which led to dozens of convictions.
All that cooperation won’t mean anything now, but Francis could be hard to catch, given his wealth and vast connections around the world, said Jason Forge, a former San Diego federal prosecutor who worked on a number of cases. high-profile corruption cases.
“He doesn’t strike me as the type of person in these circumstances to make a spontaneous decision,” Forge said. “I guess that means he’s got things planned out and he has the wherewithal to do it. He’ll probably be a free bird for a while.
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