REVEALED: Crooked Malaysian contractor 'Fat Leonard' was trying to reach RUSSIA when he was arrested in Venezuela for 'bribing Navy admirals with prostitutes for classified shipping routes'
- Leonard Glenn Francis, who went by the nickname 'Fat Leonard,' cut off an ankle monitor and slipped away from house arrest in San Diego on September 4
- He then apparently crossed the border into Mexico, and from there, he traveled to Cuba and Venezuela, where he was arrested Tuesday
- Authorities now say the 57-year-old had been planning to travel to Russia, where he could not be extradited back to the US
- Francis had pleaded guilty in 2015 to a bribery scheme in which he supplied Navy admirals with prostitutes in exchange for classified shipping routes
- He now needs new attorneys to represent him in his defense
A Malaysian defense contractor who orchestrated one of the U.S. Navy's largest bribery scandals had been trying to get to Russia when he was arrested earlier this week in Venezuela.
Authorities say that after Leonard Glenn Francis, who went by the nickname 'Fat Leonard,' cut off an ankle monitor and slipped away from house arrest in San Diego on September 4, he crossed the border into Mexico.
From there, U.S. and Venezuelan officials say, Francis, 57, traveled to Cuba and Venezuela, where he was arrested Tuesday at the Simón Bolívar International Airport outside Caracas.
He had been planning to travel to Russia, where he could not be extradited, according to Interpol Venezuela Director General Carlos Garate Rondon, who disclosed the arrest in a statement posted Wednesday on Instagram.
Rondon said Francis would be handed over to the country's judicial authorities to begin extradition proceedings, though it remains unclear when he will be sent back to the United States amid worsening relations with Venezuela.
The arrest came on the eve of his scheduled sentencing in a federal court in California for a bribery scheme that lasted more than a decade and involved dozens of U.S. Navy officers in which he secured classified shipping routes.
Leonard Glenn Francis, who went by the nickname 'Fat Leonard,' was arrested Tuesday at the Simón Bolívar International Airport outside Caracas as he apparently tried to flee to Russia
Authorities say Francis was under home arrest in San Diego when he cut off his GPS ankle bracelet and escaped on September 4. Ten U.S. agencies searched for Francis and authorities issued a $40,000 reward for his arrest.
U.S. officials also issued a red notice, which asks law enforcement worldwide to provisionally arrest someone with the possibility of extradition.
Eventually, a law enforcement official familiar with the case said, authorities were able to track down Francis using a cellphone number they were provided.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly, said Francis was located Tuesday in a Caracas neighborhood.
Venezuelan authorities then deployed a team of officers at the airport after a cab driver tipped them off that Francis was leaving a hotel and headed there.
The official said Francis intended to board a plane to the Venezuelan Caribbean Island of Margarita, which Venezuela wants to turn into a popular destination for Russian tourists because of its pristine beaches accessible by ferry or flights from the mainland.
The government said last month it plans to offer five flights a week between Margarita and Moscow starting October 1, and signs in Russian can already be seen at the island.
The official said Francis later told authorities his final destination was Russia.
Greg Rinckey, a former Army lawyer who is now in private practice, said he believes Francis was 'trying to play the angle of using some countries to get outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Marshals Service.'
'It looks like they caught him just in time,' Rinckey said. 'If he made it to Russia, I don't believe the Russians would have turned him over to us.'
It remains unclear if Francis had contacts in Russia offering to help, and if he did, what they wanted in return.
Francis had intended to board a plane to the Venezuelan Caribbean Island of Margarita, which Venezuela wants to turn into a popular destination for Russian tourists
Francis is shown with Rear Admiral Bolivar, who was investigated as part of one of the largest bribery scandals in US military history
Francis has been known to brag about still holding compromising photos and videos of Navy officials. Senior Navy officials are pictured here at a party Francis says he threw for them
But Francis has been known to brag about still holding compromising photos and videos of Navy officials after he bribed Navy admirals with prostitutes for classified shipping routes.
The towering man with a wide girth and gregarious personality wielded incredible influence as a main point of contact for U.S. Navy ships at ports across Asia.
His family's ship servicing business, Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd. or GDMA, supplied food, water and fuel to vessels for decades.
He plied officers with Kobe beef, expensive cigars, concert tickets and wild sex parties at luxury hotels from Thailand to the Philippines.
In exchange, commanders passed him classified information and steered their ships, mostly from the Navy's 7th Fleet, to ports he controlled so he could cover up as much as $35 million in fake charges.
Among those he befriended was a Russian diplomat, Francis told podcaster Tom Wright, who created a nine-part series on the case.
In an episode posted last October, Francis said he lived only a 'stone's throw' from the Russian Embassy in Singapore, and the Russian diplomat would stop by his home uninvited to drop off vodka and other gifts.
It remains unclear whether that diplomat helped him with his escape.
Francis had also boasted in the podcast about plying admirals with booze and prostitutes, and the sweet informant deal he struck with the US government.
In a podcast, Francis spoke proudly about going after Michael Misiewicz (pictured) a commander who he supplied with prostitutes in Tokyo in exchange for secret shipping routes to Australia
'Everybody was in my pocket. I had them rolling around in my palm. I had the Navy by their balls. I turned my torpedo, my guns against them, because they betrayed me,' Francis says in one episode of a nine-part series.
He also revealed that the government had arranged for visas for his whole family, saying: 'Everybody came legally. Uncle Sam knows, everybody knows what I'm doing. My children are my children.'
And in another episode, Francis spoke proudly about going after Michael Misiewicz, a commander who he supplied with prostitutes in Tokyo in exchange for secret shipping routes to Australia.
'Misciewicz had value, you know, he was like the number two guy in the scheduling department.
'If you look at him, he's actually a really nice guy, very gentle personality, friendly, great dad to his kids, womanizer...' Francis said, adding that his number two - New Yorker Edmond Aruffo - 'embedded' him.
'They wanted to have the good life that they could not have. They wanted the fine dining, the fine gifts, hotel rooms, sedans, luxury cars, watches, handbags, fancy meals, alcohol, cigars,' he said.
Francis had infiltrated Misiewicz's family and friends while he was working on the USS Blue Ridge out of Manila in 2011.
He gave him and his family tickets to the Lion King in Tokyo, bought his wife Marcy a Gucci handbag when she became suspicious of him, and arranged for Michael to sleep with prostitutes in Tokyo on a regular basis.
The scheme came crashing down in 2013 after Marcy Misiewicz, Michael's wife, suspected he was cheating on her and confronted him. He struck her and she reported it to the NCIS, which started filtering through Michael's emails.
Among them were exchanges with Francis, where Michael had supplied secret shipping routes to Australia.
Francis, who had a spy in the NCIS, found out and tried to placate her but he was eventually arrested, along with Misiewicz, who was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Francis also suggested that some of the most senior admirals he corrupted were being protected by the Navy, a claim that is bolstered by the fact that some were disciplined in military courts, whereas others were pursued by the Department of Justice.
He pleaded guilty to the bribery scheme in 2015, but had been allowed to remain in home confinement to receive medical care while he cooperated with the prosecution.
With his help, prosecutors secured convictions of 33 of 34 defendants, including more than two dozen Navy officers.
Fat Leonard had purchased a decommissioned British warship, renamed it the Glenn Braveheart (pictured), and occasionally turned it into a giant party boat
With Francis' help prosecutors secured convictions of 33 of 34 defendants, including more than two dozen Navy officers. He is pictured here with his mercenary army
Francis' sentencing hearing was still held on Thursday to deal with the changing situation. When he returns, Francis will need new attorneys.
His defense attorney, Devin Burstein, told the judge he plans to file a motion severing their ties due to an 'irreparable breakdown in the attorney-client relationship.' Burstein did not mention his client's arrest in Venezuela.
And when Francis does return, prosecutors indicated he will face an even longer sentence, asking the court to note his failure to appear at his sentencing hearing as ordered.
That could add five years to his potential sentence of 25 years, if he is ultimately charged for not showing up.
U.S. District Court Judge Janis Sammartino set a December 14 status hearing for Francis with the caveat that all parties could meet sooner depending on how events unfold.
'This turn of events raises several issues, and obviously will have an impact on other cases,' she said.
Sentencing hearings are scheduled in October for four Navy officers who went to trial and were convicted in the case.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear when Francis will be extradited back to the U.S. as relations between the country and Venezuela have been worsening in recent years.
While Venezuela and the United States have an extradition agreement, the U.S. government could face an uphill challenge returning the fugitive to American soil.
The Biden administration doesn't officially recognize President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government, has no embassy in Venezuela and has imposed crushing sanctions on the country that have further embittered relations.
Law enforcement cooperation between the two countries is rare.