Officers: Navy bribery case fugitive tried to get to Russia

Officers: Navy bribery case fugitive tried to get to Russia

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Since he escaped two weeks in the pastOfficers say the fugitive Malaysian protection contractor nicknamed “Fats Leonard,” who orchestrated one of many US Navy’s largest bribery scandals, traveled between nations to discover a place the place he might turn into nearly untouchable for the US authorities.

It nearly labored.

After chopping an ankle monitor and escaping home arrest in San Diego on September 4, US and Venezuelan officers say Leonard Glenn Francis crossed the border into Mexico, then traveled to Cuba and Venezuela, the place he was arrested Tuesday in Simón Bolívar. . Worldwide Airport on the outskirts of Caracas.

Francisco deliberate to journey to Russia, in response to Interpol Venezuela Director Basic Carlos Garate Rondon, who revealed the arrest in an announcement posted Wednesday on Instagram. He mentioned Francis could be handed over to the nation’s judicial authorities to begin extradition proceedings.

Greg Rinckey, a former Military lawyer who’s now in non-public follow, mentioned he believes Francis was “attempting to make use of the angle of utilizing some nations to get out of the jurisdiction of the US Marshals Service.”

“Seems like they caught him simply in time,” Rinckey mentioned. “If he acquired to Russia, I do not assume the Russians would have handed him over to us.”

And though Venezuela and the USA have an extradition settlement, the US authorities might face an uphill problem in returning the fugitive to US soil. The Biden administration doesn’t formally acknowledge the socialist authorities of President Nicolás Maduro, has no embassy in Venezuela and has imposed crushing sanctions on the nation which have additional infuriated relations. Police cooperation between the 2 nations is uncommon.

There was no quick phrase on when Francis could be extradited to the US.

The arrest got here on the eve of his scheduled sentencing in California federal court docket for a years-long bribery scheme.

Francis pleaded responsible in 2015 and was allowed to stay on residence confinement for medical care whereas cooperating with the prosecution. Along with his assist, prosecutors secured the convictions of 33 of the 34 defendants, together with greater than two dozen Navy officers.

The imposing man with a big body and gregarious character wielded unbelievable affect as the primary level of contact for US Navy ships in Asian ports.. His household’s ship upkeep enterprise, Singapore-based Glenn Protection Marine Asia Ltd., or GDMA, provided ships with meals, water and gas for many years. He provided officers Kobe beef, costly cigars, live performance tickets and wild intercourse events at luxurious lodges from Thailand to the Philippines. In return, commanders would move him categorised data and direct his ships, principally from the Navy’s Seventh Fleet, to ports he managed so they might cowl up as a lot as $35 million in trumped-up costs.

Amongst these he befriended was a Russian diplomat, Francis informed podcaster Tom Wright, who created a nine-part sequence on the case. In an episode printed final October, Francis mentioned that he lived “a stone’s throw” from the Russian embassy in Singapore, and that the Russian diplomat stopped by his home uninvited to depart him vodka and different items.

It isn’t identified if Francis turned to his Russian associates for assist whereas on the run.

A regulation enforcement official accustomed to the case informed The Related Press that authorities tracked down Francis utilizing a cellphone quantity offered to them. The official, who spoke on situation of anonymity as a result of he was not approved to debate the case publicly, mentioned Francis was situated in a Caracas neighborhood on Tuesday.

Venezuelan authorities deployed a crew of brokers to the airport after a taxi driver tipped them off that Francis was leaving a lodge and heading there.

The official mentioned Francis supposed to board a aircraft to Venezuela’s Caribbean island of Margarita, which Venezuela desires to make a well-liked vacation spot for Russian vacationers due to its pristine seashores accessible by ferry or flights from the mainland. The federal government mentioned final month that it plans to supply 5 flights per week between Margarita and Moscow from October 1. Indicators in Russian can already be seen on the island.

The official mentioned Francis later informed authorities his last vacation spot was Russia.

It isn’t clear if Francis had contacts in Russia who provided to assist, and in that case, what they wished in return. Francis bragged that he nonetheless had compromising photographs and movies of Navy officers.

“What actually apprehensive the USA essentially the most was that these officers could be corrupted by me, that they’d be corruptible by international powers,” Francis mentioned in one of many podcast episodes.

His sentencing listening to was nonetheless held on Thursday to take care of the altering state of affairs. When he comes again, Francis will want new attorneys.

His protection lawyer, Devin Burstein, informed the decide he plans to file a movement to sever their ties on account of an “irreparable break within the attorney-client relationship.” Burstein didn’t point out the arrest of his shopper in Venezuela.

And when Francis returns, prosecutors have indicated he’ll face a good longer sentence and requested the court docket to be aware of his failure to seem on the sentencing listening to as ordered. That would add 5 years to his potential 25-year sentence, if he’s in the end charged for failure to seem.

US District Courtroom Choose Janis Sammartino set a standing listening to for Francis on December 14 with the caveat that each one events might meet sooner relying on how occasions unfold.

“This flip of occasions raises a number of points and can clearly have an effect on different instances,” he mentioned.

Sentencing hearings are scheduled for October for 4 Navy officers who went to trial and had been convicted within the case.

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García Cano reported from Caracas, Venezuela. AP reporter Joshua Goodman in Miami contributed to this report.

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