'Fat Leonard,' mastermind behind US Navy corruption scandal, arrested

He was included in a U.S. detainee exchange with Venezuela.

December 20, 2023, 4:04 PM

Fugitive Leonard Glenn Francis, also known as "Fat Leonard," the mastermind behind the worst corruption scheme in U.S. Navy history, was arrested and returned to the U.S. Wednesday as part of a detainee exchange with Venezuela.

Francis, a Malaysian defense contractor, was behind one of the largest bribery scandals ever involving the U.S. military, specifically involving dozens of U.S. Navy officers who were later prosecuted by federal prosecutors.

In 2015, the Singapore-based Francis pleaded guilty to offering lavish parties that included prostitutes, luxury hotels, cigars, gourmet meals and more than $500,000 in cash bribes to Navy officers so they could steer business to his company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd.

That company offered services to the U.S. Navy ships in ports throughout the Pacific, and federal prosecutors alleged it overcharged the Navy by at least $35 million.

He held those lavish parties for more than a decade, which paid dividends as Naval officers provided him with classified ship schedules that gave him an advantage over rivals by knowing where they would be headed.

PHOTO: This undated photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service shows Leonard Francis.
This undated photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service shows Leonard Francis.
U.S. Marshals Service via AP

His scheme was uncovered in 2013 and he was arrested in San Diego where he had been lured by military investigators.

In 2015, he pleaded guilty in return for information to help federal prosecutors in bringing cases against 33 defendants, including many Navy officers. More than a dozen of them pleaded guilty to fraud and correction charges. The rest were found guilty.

Dozens of other Navy personnel who were not prosecuted were tainted by their contacts with him and saw the end of their careers.

During the years of court proceedings, "Fat Leonard" had been placed under long-term house arrest with a GPS ankle bracelet, but without around-the-clock security guards.

But in September 2022 he ended up in Venezuela after escaping from house arrest.

He was arrested later that month by Venezuelan authorities as he tried to board a plane bound for Russia.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the number of cases federal prosecutors brought against defendants with Francis' help.

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