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Federal authorities should be embarrassed by the Sunday disappearance of the central figure in the worst U.S. Navy corruption scandal in history, weeks before his scheduled Sept. 22 sentencing in a San Diego federal court. They should also answer questions about it. A review of the case of Leonard Glenn Francis — the Malaysian defense contractor and businessman known as “Fat Leonard” who for years ran a broad bribery scheme aimed at securing lucrative Navy contracts — shows unusual details that could have been seen as warning signs.
This begins with the fact that in 2018, the U.S. Marshals Service — which usually handles in-custody defendants before sentencing — relinquished care of Francis, saying it could not adequately meet his medical needs, which required multiple specialists and were described as “life-threatening.” This led to Francis hiring a private security company to watch him supposedly around the clock since 2018, with the U.S. District Court’s Pretrial Services staff ultimately responsible for his safe detention.
But when a Pretrial Services officer visited his rented multimillion-dollar home in December 2020 in a gated Torrey Highlands community, no security guard was found enforcing Leonard’s house arrest. Pretrial Services said there were no problems with three unannounced follow-up visits, but now questions abound, starting with: Where were the guards last week when Leonard’s neighbors reported seeing moving vans at the home? Why won’t the federal government identify the private company responsible for security? What the heck happened?
It’s hard to imagine a fugitive with Leonard’s medical condition staying hidden from U.S. authorities for long. He could be back in custody quickly, with a new GPS monitoring ankle bracelet replacing the one he cut off. But even if that happens, the Justice Department needs to take a hard look at what allowed him to flee. The “Fat Leonard” fiasco looks entirely preventable as well as deeply embarrassing.
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.