A man known as Fat Leonard—and also, primarily, for pulling off the largest corruption scandal to involve the U.S. Navy—has disappeared from his California home. It happened days before he was to be sentenced on federal corruption charges, and four years into a house arrest where he was supposed to be monitored 24-7. Read on to find out how authorities may have let him slip away, and why experts believe he has "nothing to lose" in escaping.
GPS Bracelet Snipped to Allow Escape
Leonard Glenn Francis is known as Fat Leonard for his substantial physique: 350 pounds on a six-foot-three frame. But the man is apparently nimble and not that easy to detect: Vice reports that the Malaysian businessman cut off his GPS ankle bracelet on Sunday and escaped from his San Diego home, where he's been under house arrest since 2018.
What Francis Did, Prosecutors Allege
Francis is accused of masterminding a wide corruption network that ensnared the U.S. Navy. As the owner of Glenn Defense Marine Asia, a ship servicing company based in Singapore, Francis allegedly passed $500,000 in bribes to secure contracts with the Navy in the 2000s. Officers would direct military vessels into ports Francis operated. He would then overcharge the Navy for fuel and other services. Vice reports Francis is believed to have defrauded the American military of more than $35 million.
"He Can Hook You So Fast"
"He can hook you so fast that you don't see it coming… At one time he had infiltrated the entire leadership line," a retired Navy officer close to Francis told the Washington Post in 2016. "The Soviets couldn't have penetrated us better than Leonard Francis."
Security Seemed Lax
In 2021, Tom Wright interviewed Francis in house arrest for his podcast Fat Leonard. He found security a bit wanting. "The fact that we were able to smuggle a microphone to him last year for our podcast, and that after that security on his house remained weak, is very strange," he told Vice World News. "I was surprised they didn't tighten up security on him."
Police Showed Up … Too Late
On Monday, U.S. Marshal Omar Castillo told reporters that officers came to Francis's home on Sunday. They were notified about a problem with his bracelet and concerned about his health. On arrival, they found the home empty. "As of now, multiple leads are being investigated," said Castillo. Francis's neighbors had seen U-Haul moving trucks at the house in recent days, he added. In 2020, a three-hour security gap at Francis's residence was discovered; the guard assigned to the task apparently took an executive lunch.
Nothing to Lose?
Francis was arrested in 2013 and pleaded guilty two years later. He was released to house arrest in 2018 after developing several health problems including kidney cancer. "He's probably sick and he wants to see his family and he's got nothing to lose," Wright told Vice. "He didn't want to risk being given even more jail time in his sentencing." "He's also the kind of person, as far as I know… that takes bold decisions without thinking," he added. "So that's another aspect of his character, and why he was so successful as a businessman."