Speed Reads

Fat Leonard scandal

'Fat Leonard' Francis, center of huge U.S. Navy scandal, escapes from house arrest before sentencing

Leonard Francis, a Malaysian port services contractor at the center of a massive U.S. Navy scandal, cut his GPS monitoring ankle bracket on Sunday and escaped from house arrest in San Diego, U.S. Marshals Service announced Monday. Francis, known as "Fat Leonard," was arrested in 2013 and pleaded guilty in 2015 to plying Navy officials with prostitutes, luxury goods, vacations, and other perks to send Navy ships to the ports he controlled in Southeast Asia, eventually fleecing the Navy of $35 million. 

Francis had been cooperating with prosecutors since his guilty plea. "His sentencing date had been put off for years as he assisted prosecutors and prepared for what was expected to be his star turn on the witness stand in the trial earlier this year against five former naval officers," The San Diego Union-Tribune reports. "But for reasons unknown, Francis was never called to testify. Four of the officers were convicted, and the jury deadlocked on charges against the fifth. Twenty-nine others — Navy officials, defense contractors, Francis, and his corporation — have pleaded guilty." His sentencing was finally set for Sept. 22.

"Leonard felt like a scapegoat and was furious with how he believed the U.S. Navy covered up the involvement of senior admirals in the bribery scheme," tweeted Tom Wright, who created a podcast with Francis last year after smuggling a recording device to him in detention. Wright summarized the scandal — dubbed "Fat Leonard" — and the podcast to VICE News. 

Pretrial Services, the federal agency monitoring Francis after he was released to home detention in about 2018, was alerted to a problem with his ankle monitor on Sunday, and after Francis' defense team was unable to contact him at his house, the San Diego police did a wellness check, finding only the severed GPS bracelet, the Union-Tribune reports. "Neighbors in the gated community told authorities that they had seen U-Haul moving trucks going in and out of Francis' home in the days leading up to his escape."

"He was planning this out, that's for sure," said Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Omar Castillo.

"So where do we think Leonard has gone?" Wright asked. "He's been in the shipping world for 40 years. I'd guess he slipped onto a boat in San Diego bound for Malaysia and his family. But that's not easy to pull off."