‘Fat Leonard’ Extradition Gives Maduro Regime an Edge in Redefining Relations with U.S., Says Legal Expert

The extradition of international fugitive Leonard Francis from Venezuela to the United States could mark the start of a major shift in the relationship between Caracas and Washington, D.C., a Venezuelan legal expert told USNI News on Thursday. The Venezuelan Supreme Court began the extradition procedures outlined in a 1922 treaty with the U.S. after […]

Interpol Venezuela Image

The extradition of international fugitive Leonard Francis from Venezuela to the United States could mark the start of a major shift in the relationship between Caracas and Washington, D.C., a Venezuelan legal expert told USNI News on Thursday.

The Venezuelan Supreme Court began the extradition procedures outlined in a 1922 treaty with the U.S. after Francis was arrested on Sept. 20 on an international warrant by Interpol Venezuela. He was arrested while traveling on a Malaysian passport at the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetía, attempting to fly to Russia after he flew to the country from Cuba. Francis escaped house arrest near San Diego, Calif,. on Sept. 4 ahead of a sentencing hearing after pleading guilty to charges of defrauding the U.S. Navy out of $35 million.

On Oct. 13, Venezuelan judge Elsa Janeth Gómez Moreno issued a decision to notify the U.S. of Francis’ capture and ask for proof of his crimes within 60 days – all in line with the agreement outlined in the treaty.

However, how the U.S. responds could lead the Biden administration to acknowledge the legitimacy of the regime of Nicolás Maduro, one legal expert told USNI News.

“From a legal perspective, the core of this case is whether the United States government is going to interact with the Maduro government or in a diplomatic way we can provide the necessary documents to advance in the extradition of this guy,” José Ignacio Hernández, a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a member of the Atlantic Council’s Venezuela Working Group, told USNI News. “For the United States government, that’s a problem.”

Maduro broke diplomatic relations with the U.S. on Jan. 23, 2019, after Washington and other Latin American nations declared his 2018 election fraudulent and recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela. Since then, Guaido has failed to remove Maduro from power and the humanitarian and economic strain on Venezuela has mounted over the last several years. Maduro, shunned by Washington, has cultivated relationships with U.S. rivals, including Russia, China and Iran.

However, the U.S. responding to the request from the Venezuelan court controlled by Maduro could upend the current status quo.

“The [U.S.] cannot have any formal communication with the Maduro government because they recognize Juan Guaido as the interim president, and you cannot have a diplomatic conversation with two governments at the same time,” Hernández told USNI News. “If [the] United States government decided not to answer this petition, this guy’s going to be released, for sure. But if the Biden administration decided to provide the information, Maduro is going to say, ‘we were recognized as the government by the Biden administration, because we have had this diplomatic interchange.’”

The Department of Justice declined to comment on the process of Francis’ extradition when contacted by USNI News late last week.

Francis’ extradition comes as the Biden administration has considered softening its stance toward the Maduro regime, steering away from the hardline set by the Trump White House.

In early October, Venezuela released seven Americans from prison in exchange for two of Maduro’s relatives who had been held in the U.S. on drug charges.

According to a report this month in The New York Times, in exchange for humanitarian reforms, the Biden administration is considering easing sanctions and opening up relations with the Maduro regime.

“We will review our policies, including our sanctions policies, in response to constructive steps by the Maduro regime to restore democracy,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told reporters earlier this month.

Some in Congress have opposed warming up to Caracas. On Wednesday, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) issued a joint letter to President Joe Biden that said working with the Maduro regime would “undermine prospects for the return of democracy to Venezuela.”

In the meantime, Francis remains in the custody of Venezuelan authorities, pending the response to the Oct. 13 court order from the Venezuelan court.

“In my opinion, Biden is going to provide the documentation to Maduro, and Maduro is going to work that this is a sort of recognition of his government,” Hernández said.
“[Maduro will say], because I have an answer in the form of diplomatic communication with the United States government. I have been recognized as the government of Venezuela.”

INTERPOL: Fat Leonard Arrested in Venezuela Trying to Flee to Russia

After two weeks on the run, authorities in Venezuela arrested former defense contractor Leonard “Fat Leonard” Francis as he attempted to board a plane to Russia, officials said late Wednesday. Francis was detained by Venezuelan authorities at the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetía on Tuesday morning, Interpol Venezuela Director General Carlos Garate Rondon said in […]

Interpol Venezuela Image

After two weeks on the run, authorities in Venezuela arrested former defense contractor Leonard “Fat Leonard” Francis as he attempted to board a plane to Russia, officials said late Wednesday.

Francis was detained by Venezuelan authorities at the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetía on Tuesday morning, Interpol Venezuela Director General Carlos Garate Rondon said in a post on Instagram.

Francis “had entered the country from Mexico with a stopover in Cuba to then proceed… [to the] Federal Republic of Russia,” Rondon said in a translation of the post from the original Spanish.
“The detainee will be handed over to our judicial authorities in order to initiate extradition procedures.”

The U.S. Marshall Service confirmed the dentition by Venezuelan authorities to reporters on Wednesday night, according to NBC. The U.S. issued a $40,000 reward for Francis’ capture. It’s unclear the timeline for returning Francis to the U.S.

English translation of Interpol Venezuela’s Instagram post

On Sept. 4, Francis cut off his GPS tracker and escaped house arrest from a multi-million dollar home outside of San Diego where he had been living with family members in an arrangement agreed to by a federal judge, USNI News previously reported.

The arrest came the day before Francis scheduled sentencing for more than a decade of bribing U.S. Navy officials to get advantages in ship husbanding contracts and overcharging the U.S. government $35 million for support to warships in the Western Pacific.

As part of his 2015 plea arrangement, Francis pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery, bribery and conspiracy to defraud the United States, but his sentencing was kept open while he cooperated with the wider probe overseen by the Department of Justice.

Francis’ capture comes as four former Navy officers await sentencing in October following a June conviction on bribery charges in federal court.

Of the 34 Navy officials arrested in the Fat Leonard scandal, 29 have pleaded guilty, USNI News previously reported.

New Details Revealed in ‘Fat Leonard’ Escape, Detention as Manhunt Continues

An international manhunt continued Tuesday for Leonard Glenn Francis, a former defense contractor and convicted mastermind of a multimillion-dollar U.S. Navy corruption case who fled custody from home detention Sunday morning, just weeks before he was to be sentenced to federal prison. Francis, a Malaysian national and the former president of Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine […]

U.S. Marshals wanted poster for Leonard Francis

An international manhunt continued Tuesday for Leonard Glenn Francis, a former defense contractor and convicted mastermind of a multimillion-dollar U.S. Navy corruption case who fled custody from home detention Sunday morning, just weeks before he was to be sentenced to federal prison.

Francis, a Malaysian national and the former president of Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia, was convicted in 2015 after taking a plea deal in exchange for helping U.S. prosecutors implicate three-dozen military officials. Since at least 2018, he has been living in home detention in San Diego under court-approved “medical furloughs” for treatment of renal cancer and other health issues, according to federal court documents. He was scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 22 before District Court Judge Janis Sammartino.

But at about 7:30 a.m. Sunday, the GPS tracker affixed to Francis’ ankle alerted federal monitors that it “was being tampered with,” a U.S. Marshals Service official told USNI News.

That alert prompted monitors with U.S. Pretrial Services to check on his status, which, per protocols, means ruling out scenarios including a faulty tracker. That agency handles all federal defendants on pretrial or pre-sentencing release.

“They just can’t assume somebody is on the run and call U.S. Marshals,” said Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Omar Castillo, with the U.S. Marshals Service in San Diego. “We got the call from them around 2:30 in the afternoon, and that’s when we went out to the residence.”

About a half hour later, the Marshals’ team arrived at the home, in an expensive area known as Carmel Valley, “to see if in fact he had possibly left or if he just had an issue with the GPS,” Castillo said. When they got there, the deputy marshals confirmed Francis wasn’t there.

Looking through the windows, after announcing their presence, they could see “the house was empty,” he said. Someone found an unlocked door, and “found the GPS monitor inside the house … and the scissors that he used to possibly cut it were right next to the GPS monitor.”

Before the marshals got to the house, San Diego Police Department had been alerted, either by Pretrial Services or Francis’ attorneys, to conduct a welfare check on Francis, Castillo said.

More than seven hours passed between when federal authorities were alerted by the GPS monitor and when marshals arrived at the house. Castillo said he didn’t know what caused the lapse in time. Marshals don’t get involved in any of the monitoring actions “until a judge actually issues a bench warrant for a defendant to be brought back … for pretrial release violation,” he added. It wasn’t clear whether Sammartino issued the warrant. U.S. Pretrial Services provides probation and pretrial work for the federal courts.

Unknown to federal monitors, Francis had been moving belongings out of the property – he lived there with his mother and children, according to court documents – for several days as neighbors told federal authorities they saw several U-Haul trucks “coming in and out of the residence,” Castillo said. “There was more than one” seen on Friday or Saturday.

Undated photo of Leonard Francis

“We are following leads that have come into our national number, as well as our website, and we are following some leads that we have established ourselves,” he said. “As of now, we think he’s probably going international. It sounds like he’s been planning this for a while.”

Castillo said he didn’t know what security arrangements were in place at Francis’ residence. He understands that Francis had security monitoring him, issued by the court, but paid for by Francis.

“I can tell you nobody was there when we showed up,” he said. “Nobody was there.”

It’s unclear how much time Francis had spent detained in U.S. physical custody before or after his conviction on a guilty plea. He had been living in home detention for at least four years, according to unsealed court documents.

That arrangement, approved by Sammartino with prosecutors’ support, was based on round-the-clock monitoring by a GPS ankle bracelet and a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week physical guard at Francis’ residence. That residence included a one-bedroom apartment, rented condominium and a gated single-family home, according to court transcripts.

Sammartino, a long-time district judge, has been overseeing the bulk of the cases brought forth from San Diego-based federal prosecutors who have led the long-running, wide-ranging investigation into Francis and GDMA’s alleged fraud and bribery of Navy and military officials, including senior officers serving with the Japan-based U.S. 7th Fleet.

“Our office is supporting the U.S. Marshals Service and its San Diego Fugitive Task Force in their efforts to bring Leonard Francis back into custody,” Kelly Thornton, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, said in a statement Tuesday. “We will have no further comment at this time.”

Prosecutors have garnered federal convictions against 33 of 34 U.S. Navy officials, defense contractors and GDMA officers charged in the case, including Francis.

“We can confirm that NCIS is working jointly with the U.S. Marshals Service, Defense Criminal Investigative Service and U.S. Attorney’s Office to locate and apprehend Mr. Francis,” the Navy said in a statement to USNI News. “Out of respect for the investigative process, we cannot comment further at this time.”

Francis’ escape comes just two weeks before he was due to show up in a San Diego courtroom to be sentenced for his role in the case.

Francis was 50 years old when he, along with his company, in 2015 pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery, bribery and conspiracy to defraud the United States, charges that could net him a 25-year prison sentence.

How Francis could escape from a four-years’-long home detention isn’t clear. But court documents unsealed last month reveal that Sammartino, as well as federal prosecutors, had lingering concerns about Francis’ commitment to adhere to judge-approved, pretrial restrictions that would enable him to get medical treatment in San Diego for unspecified ailments. This includes reported Stage 4 renal cancer, according to the transcripts, and other health issues related to aging.

Undated photo of Leonard Francis

Francis’ defense attorneys repeatedly requested that he be allowed to continue living at home while he received medical care, rather than be medically treated by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. That request came after he had undergone some medical procedures and was receiving a series of medical treatments that required constant and regular medical monitoring. Those treatments, at times, required adjustments to the private security guards that were required to watch him round-the-clock, including when he moved into a condominium, rented from a medical doctor, for medical care. It wasn’t clear, from available court records, where the security guards were stationed, and how many. During one December 2020 court hearing, his attorney said that two guards alternated 12-hour shifts, a situation that raised concerns when one guard left the property for an extended lunch during a time when a federal pretrial monitor showed up to check on Francis.

“I don’t want to make this more complicated than it is, but in the event that something were to happen and the facility were to be empty one morning and he’s not there and he’s back in Malaysia for whatever reason,” she said, regarding her concerns about setting up that temporary convalescent location.

At one point, Sammartino repeated concerns in court about Francis’ honesty after Pretrial Services told the court that the security guard at Francis’ residence wasn’t on site during one unannounced visit. Francis was paying those security guards. Sammartino ordered all sides to her courtroom, and Francis, speaking by phone, apologized to her and said it wouldn’t happen again.

“Understood,” Francis’ lead attorney, Devin Burstein, replied, according to a transcript.

The judge questioned whether or not the U.S. Marshals Service would monitor Francis, saying that her name was on the the decision to let Francis outside of jail “without any security.”

“You’re not telling me he can’t afford this anymore, because he’s affording everything else, which is infinitely more expensive than the security individual,” Sammartino said.

Sammartino had approved those “medical furlough” requests multiple times, starting at least December 2017 – including in late 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic became more concerning to Francis’ medical condition – and even after she had received, unsolicited, a November 2020 letter from a San Diego-area bariatric surgeon who had been treating Francis that gave him a clean bill of health.

At a hearing to discuss that matter, the judge seemed to question her decision to allow Francis to remain in home detention. Francis had been released, by federal authorities, on his own recognizance and with a GPS bracelet, but without needing to post a monetary bond, as is common in cases where there’s a concern about escape.

“Number one, he could be here,” Sammartino told attorneys at one status hearing. “Number two, what I have traditionally told other defendants in pending cases in this overall conspiracy is that this has been a legitimate medical furlough, and at the point of which it is no longer a legitimate medical furlough, the court may take a different position.

“The other concern I have is, if he is not (redacted), I’m concerned. Is he paying his security team? What is his status? I even went so far as to wonder if he is still in this country. So I would like to hear all of those addressed. And the other thing is, Mr. Burstein, Mr. Pletcher, you have been very diligent in this matter, and it surprises me that I hear this from the doctor directly and not from you when there was a change of [medical] circumstance.”

Francis’ attorney told her that Francis continued to pay his round-the-clock security team and he was living in the house with his children.

“He’s not going anywhere,” said the attorney, who later added that Francis had moved out of the condo, which he had rented from the doctor who he had a falling out with over a billing issue, according to the transcript.

A U.S. Pretrial Services representative told the judge that Francis was monitored, even throughout the times when medical treatments required that the GPS bracelet be removed.

At a status hearing in January 2021, Sammartino questioned the status of Francis’ health and, at one point, raised the possibility of having an independent, third-party medical expert come to the court and explain Francis’ current health and future expectations. He was expected to testify at several pending trials of Navy officials, including five former 7th Fleet officers.

Defense attorneys argued that he would do so in 90-minute increments, with 15-minute breaks to accommodate his medical condition, as was the practice when Francis testified at an earlier military court-martial.

But when that trial began last spring, Francis wasn’t on the witness list. It’s unclear why he wasn’t called to testify. The latest court transcripts available on the publicly accessible website were from a December 2021 status conference, when the judge extended the medical furlough until May 23, 2022.

A federal jury convicted four of the five Navy officers – Capts. David Newland, James Dolan and David Lausman and former Cmdr. Mario Herrera – in late June on charges of accepting bribes from Francis. They are set to be sentenced next month.

The jury couldn’t agree on a verdict for the fifth officer, Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless. Loveless, a former fleet intelligence chief, has continued to contest the charges and is seeking an acquittal. Sammartino has denied his motion for mistrial, and a status hearing is set for Sept. 30 in San Diego.

Former Navy Captain Pleads Guilty to Bribery in ‘Fat Leonard’ Investigation

A former U.S. 7th Fleet operations officer pleaded guilty to bribery, admitting in a federal court Wednesday that he took nearly $68,000 in gifts that included extravagant meals, prostitutes and luxury hotel stays from defense contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia, U.S. prosecutors announced Wednesday. Former Capt. Donald Gayle Hornbeck handed over sensitive, classified ship-movement information […]

Capt. Donald Gayle Hornbeck

A former U.S. 7th Fleet operations officer pleaded guilty to bribery, admitting in a federal court Wednesday that he took nearly $68,000 in gifts that included extravagant meals, prostitutes and luxury hotel stays from defense contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia, U.S. prosecutors announced Wednesday.

Former Capt. Donald Gayle Hornbeck handed over sensitive, classified ship-movement information and helped Leonard Glenn Francis recruit and manage a network of naval officials in a long-running conspiracy that traded kickbacks for lucrative husbanding contracts for GDMA to support U.S. Navy ships’ port visits in the region, according to the plea agreement.

Hornbeck, 61, appeared in federal court in San Diego, Calif., on Wednesday and, as part of the plea agreement, agreed to repay the Navy $67,830 in restitution for items he “corruptly accepted and received directly,” the restitution document stated. He faces up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on Sept. 8, 2022, by U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino.

Francis, known as “Fat Leonard,” was president of Singapore-based GDMA until his 2013 arrest and subsequent indictment in a federal investigation into the corruption and fraud conspiracy involving scores of military officials and contractors that investigators believe steered more than $35 million in Navy contracts to GDMA.

Hornbeck’s relationship with Francis took root when the officer served in 7th Fleet, beginning in August 2005, as the assistant chief-of-staff for operations with Commander, Task Force 70 aboard the former USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) and then as 7th Fleet’s deputy chief of staff for operations, or N-3, a job that oversaw and directed operations of combatant ships in the region.

“While scores of Navy people were partying with Leonard Francis, a massive breach of national security was in full swing,” U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said in a news release. “Today, another participant has admitted that he lost his way, allowing greed to replace honor and duty as the driving force in his life. This is a day of reckoning for a captain who traded his honor and integrity for material pleasures.”

In the plea agreement, Hornbeck – also known as “Bubbles” – admitted to trading information about ships’ movements and planned port calls for gifts that included receptions and parties with prostitutes, and he became a point man for Francis to recruit others within 7th Fleet’s staff to join the growing conspiracy. Along the way, the captain pitched his services to work for Francis out of San Diego several times.

Court documents detail some of the gifts, including a late-January 2008 extravaganza that included rooms at the Hong Kong Marriott that cost $626 per night, paid for by Francis, and an eight-course, $18,371 dinner at the restaurant Petrus.

Afterward, Hornbeck thanked Francis by email, writing: “Just wanted to send a quick note to say thank you for including me in the get-together last night. Really enjoyed talking to you – and the food, music and wine were wonderful… As we briefly discussed, it looks like I’ll be leaving the Navy around June 2009. Not sure whether I will stay in this job until retirement, or if I’ll get orders back to the United States later this year. In any event, if you are still considering opening and [sic] office in San Diego in the near future, I would very much be interested in being a part of that.”

In the spring of 2008, Francis provided Hornbeck and others with parties that included prostitutes at the Conrad Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, at Singapore’s Shangri-La Hotel and at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel in Manila, Philippines, according to the plea agreement. The Manila party cost Francis more than $50,000 in room and alcohol charges, and Francis emailed Hornbeck a naked photo of one of the prostitutes who was at the Manila party.

A few years later, in December 2010, Hornbeck emailed Francis “advising him” about the planned, January 2011 port visit to Port Klang, Malaysia, of aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). In return, Francis paid for a hotel room for Hornbeck in Kuala Lumpur during Vinson‘s port visit.

Hornbeck is one of the “GDMA 9” – a group of eight Navy officers and one Marine Corps officer, all former 7th Fleet officials – indicted in March 2017 by a federal grand jury for what federal prosecutors then described as “acting as a team of moles for a foreign defense contractor, trading military secrets and substantial influence for sex parties with prostitutes, extravagant dinners and luxury travel.”

He is the fifth of those nine to plead guilty. A federal trial of the remaining four defendants is slated to begin Feb. 28, according to prosecutors.

So far, 29 of the 34 military officials charged by U.S. prosecutors in the “Fat Leonard” scandal have pleaded guilty. Dozens of other Navy personnel allegedly part of Francis’ criminal network reportedly were investigated for their roles in the scandal and faced possible administrative actions by the service. A handful received administrative punishments, including Navy secretarial censure, but the Navy to date has not publicly detailed the results of all administrative or punitive actions connected to Francis.

Marine Corps to Begin Gender Integrated Training at San Diego Boot Camp

The Marine Corps in February will start conducting gender integrated training at its San Diego boot camp, the service announced this week. In a news release, the service said it would start training for males and females at San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot. “Beginning February 12, 2021, an integrated company of male and female […]

Drill instructors with Receiving Company, Support Battalion, correct a new recruit of Bravo Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, during receiving at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, March 30, 2020. Once recruits stepped off the bus, they immediately began the transformation from civilian to Marine. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Brooke C. Woods)

The Marine Corps in February will start conducting gender integrated training at its San Diego boot camp, the service announced this week.

In a news release, the service said it would start training for males and females at San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot.

“Beginning February 12, 2021, an integrated company of male and female recruits is scheduled to begin their journey to become Marines at MCRD, after undergoing a two-week COVID-19 quarantine protocol,” the Marine Corps said. “This initial opportunity for male and female recruits to train concurrently at MCRD San Diego will serve as a proof of concept to validate requirements needed to sustain integrated training on the west coast in the future.”

The service also announced that it will graduate its first integrated drill instructor class in San Diego, Calif., on Wednesday. A class that includes 54 male Marines and three female Marines will graduate from MCRD San Diego, the release said.

The drill instructor graduates who become part of Lima Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion will lead February’s first integrated training class in San Diego, according to the service.

“In an effort to forge Marines of the highest quality, we must give them every opportunity to succeed. This is the first time we are able to give Marines who graduate from MCRD San Diego the same integrated experience that many of their peers at Parris Island have received already,” Brig. Gen. Ryan P. Heritage, the commanding general of MCRD, Western Recruiting Region, said in a statement.
“The opportunity and experience these young men and women will get in terms of training and learning from one-another is immeasurably important to prepare all of our Marines for success, and this also will get us one step closer to understanding the facilities and personnel needed to make this a sustained reality.”

While the Marine Corps has performed integrated training at Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot, S.C., it has yet to do so in San Diego. The service has been moving toward integrated training for years. Former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in 2016 described the push toward integrated training as a “gradual” move.

Capt. Martin Harris, a spokesman for MCRD San Diego, said the training set to begin in February will emulate what the Marine Corps has done in Parris Island, with several male platoons and one female platoon training together for the 13 weeks.

But Harris noted that each battalion training at Parris Island has access to its own facilities to use, like obstacle courses and barracks, while recruits in San Diego have always shared facilities.

“What we’re trying to understand is what facilities and personnel – to validate what facilities and personnel will be needed in order to do this long-term, full-scale, by 2028, based on the [National Defense Authorization Act],” Harris told USNI News.