A Malaysian businessman linked to one of the biggest bribery scandals to hit the U.S. Navy in modern times has escaped his house arrest in San Diego weeks before his sentencing.
Leonard Glenn Francis, better known by his nickname “Fat Leonard,” escaped his home on Sunday after managing to cut his GPS ankle tag, according to Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Omar Castillo. Neighbors also had reportedly seen U-hauls coming in and out of Francis’ home days before his escape but failed to alert the authorities.
Francis’ escape was only discovered after Pretrial Services, a federal agency in charge of supervising the Malaysian businessman, asked the San Diego police to perform a welfare check on Francis when they were notified that his GPS device had been tampered with.
Upon arriving, authorities discovered the house was empty before later finding Francis’ GPS ankle tag. The San Diego Regional Fugitive Task Force subsequently initiated a manhunt for the fugitive with the help of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Since the house is located just 40 minutes away from the Mexican border, Castillo said Mexican authorities had been alerted after the escape. He added that 10 U.S. law enforcement agencies, ranging from local, state and federal levels, had been put on search duties for Francis.
Despite alerting the Mexican authorities, Castillo said he would not be surprised if Francis had already left for Mexico as vehicles driving into Tijuana are only stopped at random.
Francis was arrested in a San Diego hotel in 2013 as part of a federal sting operation. He pleaded guilty in 2015 to offering senior U.S. Navy officers $500,000 in bribes in exchange for funneling more work towards his Singapore-based company Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA), for which he overcharged the U.S. Navy by more than $35 million.
Francis is scheduled for sentencing on Sept. 22 and is facing 25 years in jail.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Francis allegedly offered expensive meals, fancy hotel accommodations and women to senior U.S. Navy officers in exchange for classified information and diverting more business into GDMA. The Malaysian businessman was also referred to by the men working for him as “Admiral,” “Emperor” and “Boss,” prosecutors alleged.
Before his escape on Sunday, Francis, who suffers from several health issues, including kidney cancer, had been under house arrest in his multi-million-dollar home located in a gated San Diego community since 2018.
Joined by his three children, the house was reportedly guarded by a private security company paid for by him to prevent him from escaping.
Tom Wright, the founder of Project Brazen, told Vice News that Francis’ home security was lacking when they interviewed him for a podcast in 2021. Wright noted that they were able to smuggle inside a microphone for the interview and found it “very strange” that the security remained weak even afterward.
Wright believed that Francis, who is now in his 50s and battling cancer, is desperate to avoid incarceration as he has nothing to lose.
“He’s probably sick and he wants to see his family and he’s got nothing to lose. He didn’t want to risk being given even more jail time in his sentencing,” Wright was quoted as saying. “He’s also the kind of person, as far as I know… that takes bold decisions without thinking. So that’s another aspect of his character, and why he was so successful as a businessman.”
The scandal, widely referred to as the “Fat Leonard Scandal,” has implicated over 200 U.S. Navy officers, including 30 admirals.
Featured Image via Navy League of the United States Singapore Council