File photograph of Leonard Glenn Francis, better known as "Fat Leonard" (via the Fat Leonard Podcast)

“Fat Leonard” Escapes House Arrest Weeks Before Sentencing

The Malaysian military contractor who masterminded the United States Navy’s worst corruption scandal is now on the run after escaping house arrest, just three weeks before he was due to be sentenced after pleading guilty to offering $500,000 in bribes to naval officers in 2015.

Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Omar Castillo told the San Diego Union-Tribune that Leonard Glenn Francis is believed to have cut off his GPS tracking bracelet and absconded from his home on Sunday morning. The flight of Francis, better known as “Fat Leonard” for his size, was discovered after police performing a welfare check at his home found that it had been emptied of everything but the sheared off bracelet.

According to Castillo, neighbors in the gated community Francis resided in told authorities that U-Haul moving trucks going in and out of Francis’ home in the days prior to his escape, but did not consider the truck movements suspicious. While alerts have been issued and the Marshal Service, San Diego Regional Fugitive Task Force, and Naval Criminal Investigative Service are now working together in a manhunt, Castillo conceded that Fat Leonard may already have crossed into Mexico.

Fat Leonard and his company Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) are accused of overcharging the Navy for services including fuel, tugboats, barges, food, water, and sewage removal by nearly $35 million. The scheme was made possible by Francis’ bribery of a large number of Navy officers with cash, expensive meals, luxury items and prostitutes. The officers provided classified information that facilitated the redirection of Seventh Fleet ships into GDMA-operated ports where they would be charged exorbitantly for services rendered, as well as hindering investigations into suspected corruption.

Fat Leonard would eventually be arrested in a sting operation in 2013, and after pleading guilty in 2015 had acted as a cooperating witness for a federal prosecutor. He was placed on house arrest in 2018, following several health issues including kidney cancer, and had been expected to be sentenced on September 22 after he was not summoned as a witness in the trial of five former Navy officers for bribery and conspiracy in June. While the jury could not reach a verdict on one officer, the remaining four were found guilty. 29 other individuals including other officers, contractors, GDMA employees and Francis himself had previously pleaded guilty.

Prior to the escape, Francis had appeared on a nine-episode podcast about the corruption he was involved in with Tom Wright, the author of Billion Dollar Whale (a book on the 1MDB fraud, another corruption scandal with Malaysian origins). Perhaps as foreshadowing of his escape, Francis claimed that he was violating the terms of his plea deal by providing a tell-all of his perspective of the scandal, and his belief that he had been made the scapegoat of the investigation.