Leonard Glenn Francis, also known as "Fat Leonard," was at the heart of the U.S. Navy's largest corruption scandal. He escaped house arrest on Sunday after cutting off his ankle GPS tracker. Photo: Courtesy of Tom Wright
His unassailable charm was said to have penetrated the U.S. Navy better than the Soviets ever could, as he gained unprecedented access to classified military information through a massive bribery network. Now, Leonard Glenn Francis has pulled off yet another daring feat, successfully escaping house arrest just weeks before he’s set to be sentenced for masterminding the Navy’s largest-ever corruption scandal.
Widely known as “Fat Leonard” for his 350-pound, 6-foot-three stature, Malaysian businessman Francis cut his GPS monitoring ankle bracelet off on Sunday and fled his San Diego home, where he’s been under house arrest since 2018. Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Omar Castillo told reporters on Monday that police arrived at Francis’ home concerned about his health after being notified of a problem with his bracelet, only to find nobody home.“As of now, multiple leads are being investigated,” Castillo said, adding that Francis’ neighbors had seen U-Haul moving trucks at his house in the days before his escape. None notified police of his brazen and slow-paced escape, though it’s not clear whether they knew who resided at the property.Security at Francis’ house was lax, Tom Wright, the co-founder of journalism studio Project Brazen, who interviewed Francis at length last year for his podcast Fat Leonard, told VICE World News. “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,” said Wright. In 2020, an inspection found no one guarding the house for three hours when the on-duty guard was out at lunch.
“I was surprised they didn't tighten up security on him,” Wright added. The owner of Glenn Defense Marine Asia, a Singapore-based maritime ship servicing company with ports across the Asia-Pacific, Francis bribed his way into lucrative contracts with the U.S. Navy in the 2000s. At the heart of his sprawling corruption network was the USS Blue Ridge, a command ship that sails around Asia and serves as the floating headquarters for the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet.He would shower officers from the Blue Ridge with gifts—often involving luxury hotel cocktail parties, Michelin-star dining experiences, sex workers, and thousand-dollar bottles of booze and cigars—in exchange for classified ship schedules and other information. At one party in 2008, held at the Mandarin Oriental and the Makati Shangri-La hotels in Manila, the Philippines, prosecutors said Navy officers drank an entire inventory of Dom Pérignon Champagne and were entertained by “a rotating carousel of prostitutes.”Officers also redirected military vessels to Francis’ ports so that they could be serviced by his company, where he would overcharge the Navy for fuel and other services. Prosecutors said that, over the years, he defrauded the U.S. military of more than $35 million, although some believe the figure is much higher.
Francis could get the Navy what it needed, such as navigating complex port arrangements, which made officials happy to “look the other way and make it all look legit,” Mike Misiewicz, a deputy of fleet operations, told Defense News in 2016. Misiewicz was sentenced to 78 months in prison for conspiracy and bribery after providing Francis with classified information in exchange for cash, gifts, and services from sex workers.“As morally upright as we are as Americans, the fact of the matter is some things over there in Asia have to be done behind closed doors,” he said, describing Francis as having “every in and out on making things happen.”Francis’ loyal network of moles in the U.S. Navy—who came to call themselves, among other names, the Cool Kids or the Wolfpack—reached into the institution’s high ranks. When a military lawyer warned senior officers on the Blue Ridge about accepting bribes, they were said to have informed Francis so that he could hide the evidence.“He can hook you so fast that you don’t see it coming... At one time he had infiltrated the entire leadership line,” an anonymous retired Navy officer close to Francis told the Washington Post in 2016. “The Soviets couldn’t have penetrated us better than Leonard Francis.”
Arrested in 2013, Francis pleaded guilty two years later to offering $500,000 in bribes to Navy officials, though he was never sentenced. In 2018, the court allowed him to live under house arrest due to health issues, which included kidney cancer. From then, he stayed in a multimillion-dollar home nestled within a gated community in San Diego with his three children. The house was guarded by a private security company to ensure he didn’t flee, but was paid for by Francis himself, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. It’s unclear if his children were still staying with him when he escaped on Sunday.
The Fat Leonard scandal has implicated over 200 Navy officers, with dozens charged and four most recently convicted of conspiracy, bribery, and fraud in June. Francis’ own sentencing was put off after he agreed to be a prosecution witness in the recent trial—though, for reasons that aren’t clear, he was never called to testify. With the trials coming to a close, Francis’ sentencing was set for Sep. 22, where he faced up to 25 years in prison.
“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.”
“Leonard’s sentencing is the last act in all of that. And they were hoping, I think, to draw a line under the whole debacle,” said Wright. Now in his late 50s and battling cancer, Wright says Francis’ escape shows he was desperate to avoid incarceration. “He's probably sick and he wants to see his family and he's got nothing to lose,” said Wright, who interviewed Francis for over 20 hours for his podcast. “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. So that's another aspect of his character, and why he was so successful as a businessman.”Follow Koh Ewe on Twitter and Instagram.