The “Fat Leonard” scandal has been one of the Navy’s worst scandals. The corruption scandal began in 2007 involving various US Navy officials who reportedly accepted bribes from a Singaporean defense contractor. To date, eighteen Navy officials have been charged with the scandal, and many others have pleaded guilty in the case.

The man of the hour is Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) owner Leonard Glenn Francis (aka Fat Leonard), who orchestrated the entire scheme. He reportedly bribed Navy personnel in the Asia-Pacific region in exchange for classified information about ship movements. His bribery also allowed him to acquire contracts with the US Navy.

Some bribes included $1 million worth of Cuban cigars, luxury items, meals in Michelin-starred restaurants, and parties with a “rotating carousel of prostitutes,” as the prosecutors described. In addition, “Fat Leonard” systematically defrauded the Navy to the point that he had access to classified information and other Navy secrets.

During the investigation, they discovered that Francis had been in this scheme until 2013, trying to attract connections with the Blue Ridge personnel. He had tried to bribe hundreds of Navy personnel but had a particular eye on Blue Ridge officers.

The Blue Ridge officers were responsible for managing operations, logistics, and intelligence for the entire 7th Fleet. Furthermore, with Francis’ “methodically assembled” network of informants, he defrauded the US military of $35 million worth of contracts and other assets. However, other officials believed the monetary losses by the Navy were far more significant than this amount.

Francis pleaded guilty five years ago and has been in jail in San Diego since his arrest in 2013. He cooperated with authorities over the years to improve his sentencing. However, just as he was about to receive the final sentencing for the case, “Fat Leonard” successfully escaped.

The Escapee

Francis was under house arrest in San Diego awaiting his Sept. 22 hearing when he cut off his GPS monitoring bracelet on Sunday. He has now disappeared from the authorities, and nearly a dozen US law enforcement agencies are searching for him until today. However, officials acknowledged that he might already be in Mexico on the way back to Asia.

The Pretrial Services, the federal agency monitoring Francis, was alerted of the anomaly and the defense team checked on him. At first, they thought it was because of his current health issue. However, an attorney called the San Diego police at about 1:45 p.m., saying Francis was no longer answering their knocks or messages. The attorney then requested a welfare check at his home in the Torrey Highlands.

Francis reportedly had several medical issues, including kidney cancer. This was one of the reasons he was awarded a medical furlough and was allowed to be on house arrest instead of prison.

When officers arrived, they entered the home via an unsecured door in the central courtyard. The entire estate was empty, except for the GPS bracelet that was left behind. This was the time the US Marshals Service was called in to assist. The San Diego Regional Fugitive Task Force was also called in for the manhunt.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service
Naval Criminal Investigative Service (Source: Inventorchris/Flickr)

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is also working with the US Marshal Service and other federal agencies “to locate and apprehend Mr. Francis,” said a spokesperson during a conference.

“Out of respect for the investigative process, we cannot comment further at this time,” the spokesperson said.

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Days before his disappearance, the neighbors said they saw moving trucks arrive at Francis’ home. Supervisory Deputy Omar Castillo with the US Marshals’ district in Southern California said he was planning the escape “for sure.”

The requirements of Francis’ house arrest were not disclosed as of Monday, but previous court orders showed that US District Judge Janis Sammartino called for constant 24-hour surveillance at his home. The home was surrounded by an unnamed private company whom Francis paid. It was also known that Francis’ children were living with him, but it is unclear if they were still there as of Sunday.

Francis’ defense attorney, Devin Burstein, was asked to comment about his client, but he has not responded yet.

“Obviously it’s very disappointing,” San Diego attorney Michael Crowley, who defended one of the former Navy officers in the recent trial, said upon hearing of Francis’ escape. “He started all this and we wanted him to testify since this was the crux of the government’s case. Here, they’ve let him slip right through their fingers.”