Leonard Glenn Francis, the Malaysian defence contractor known as “Fat Leonard” who fled home arrest in Southern California earlier this month, was arrested on Tuesday morning in Venezuela as he attempted to board a plane at the Caracas international airport, according to the US Marshals Service.
The top Interpol official in Venezuela posted on social media that Francis, who orchestrated the worst bribery and corruption scandal in U.S. Navy history, was headed to Russia. He had travelled through Mexico and Cuba and was captured at Simón Bolívar International Airport in the Venezuelan capital.
The arrest was made after Interpol, the international policing agency, had issued a “red notice,” a request by law enforcement to locate and arrest someone, Supervisory Deputy US Marshal Omar Castillo said Wednesday.
Francis escaped from home arrest in San Diego on September 4 by cutting off his GPS ankle bracelet. The escape only added to his notoriety, and Francis has been the subject of an international manhunt since, with marshals and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service offering a combined $40,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
Francis’ defence attorney, Devin Burstein, declined to comment Wednesday. A spokesperson for the US Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Castillo said he could not confirm where the flight Francis was attempting to board was headed. Francis is now in custody of authorities in Venezuela.
He will have to be extradited back to the US, which could take some time. Castillo said the US Department of State and the US Department of Justice will lead the extradition effort.
The US and Venezuela have a limited extradition treaty, though it’s unclear whether tensions between the nations could complicate the process.
No marshals were in Venezuela as of Wednesday, according to Castillo, who said he did not believe any US officials had yet seen Francis or been in contact with him.
Journalist Tom Wright, who recorded a podcast with Francis while he was in home confinement, first reported Monday that Francis was in Venezuela. He reported that Francis was in the company of one of his adult sons.
News of his apprehension came one day before the date that had been set for Francis to be sentenced on bribery and conspiracy charges in San Diego federal court. For more than a decade he orchestrated a wide-ranging corruption scheme in which US Navy officers were bribed with gifts, cash and sex, and in return they aided Francis’ ship-servicing business, which controlled ports throughout Southeast Asia.
The scheme defrauded taxpayers out of at least $35 million and led to the conviction of nearly three-dozen Navy personnel in the worst scandal in the services’ history.
Francis’ plea deal called for him to forfeit that $35 million to the government. While he paid $5 million of that several years ago, he fled without having paid out the remainder. He still owes the government $30 million, according to Joseph Mancano, the lawyer for one of the convicted Navy officials.