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Here’s How NCIS Captured Fat Leonard (again)

Leonard Francis, aka Fat Leonard, the man behind the largest scandal of the century.

Here’s How NCIS Captured Fat Leonard (again)

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December 22, 2023

By Nick Wadhams (Bloomberg) The Biden administration heralded a prisoner swap with Venezuela on Wednesday as a diplomatic breakthrough between two adversaries. But the big prize was a defense contractor nicknamed “Fat Leonard,” who orchestrated one of the Pentagon’s worst-ever corruption scandals.

Fat Leonard’s real name is Leonard Francis, and to anyone following the US military in the 2010s it was instantly recognizable: Over decades, he had bilked the US Navy out of some $35 million in a scheme that saw him ply US ship commanders with cash, cigars and prostitutes to ensure he would get a jump on providing supplies and services for ships arriving in Asian ports.

Even more embarrassing for the US, Navy Francis fled the US weeks before he was expected to be sentenced on bribery and fraud charges in 2022. He cut his ankle bracelet and left San Diego, making his way to Mexico and Cuba before Venezuelan authorities arrested him as he tried to board a flight to Moscow.

Also Read: ‘I Had The US Navy By The B*lls’ Says Fat Leonard In New Podcast Series

Among the surprises of the deal announced Wednesday, Venezuela agreeing to return Francis to US custody was perhaps the biggest. Relations between the two countries have been marked by increasing antagonism as the US levied crushing sanctions on President Nicolas Maduro over his sidelining of the opposition.

But the deal — which also saw Venezuela release 10 Americans in exchange for Maduro ally and financier Alex Saab — offers a glimmer of hope that the two sides could achieve some form of rapprochement down the road.

Francis was returned from Venezuela “so that he will face justice for crimes he committed against the US government and the American people,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. 

Venezuela is also releasing some 20 political prisoners. “We stand in support of democracy in Venezuela and the aspirations of the Venezuelan people,” Biden said.

For the US military, it’s also another a chance to make right an embarrassment that rocked the Pentagon in the mid-2000s. Despite guilty pleas from some top Navy brass, prosecutors have little to show for cases linked to the scandal. A year after Francis’ escape, the convictions of four Navy officers crumbled, following disclosures of government missteps, the Wall Street Journal reported this week.

Francis’s Glenn Defense Marine worked with the Navy for 25 years, providing goods and services for American ships in at least a dozen countries in Asia, according to court filings. Among three regional contracts the company was awarded in 2011 was one for as much as $125 million over five years to provide tugboats, fuel, trash removal and other services for the Navy in Southeast Asia.

By Nick Wadhams © 2023 Bloomberg L.P.

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