Leonard Francis, the former military contractor known as “Fat Leonard” who orchestrated the largest corruption scandal in US Navy history, was arrested Tuesday morning by authorities in Venezuela at the request of the US Marshals Service, according to the agency.
Francis is currently detained by authorities in Venezuela and US government officials have started proceedings with Venezuela in an attempt to seek extradition, Supervisory Deputy US Marshal Omar Castillo told CNN Wednesday.
US federal law enforcement had previously filed a so-called “Red Notice” with the multinational policing organization INTERPOL after Francis went on the run earlier this month, Castillo said. A Red Notice is a global request to participating INTERPOL members to provisionally arrest a wanted suspect pending further legal action, such as extradition.
The former contractor escaped house arrest in San Diego two weeks ago by cutting off his GPS monitoring ankle bracelet, Castillo told CNN at the time.
He escaped just three weeks before he was set to be sentenced.
Francis entered Venezuela after traveling through Mexico and Cuba and was arrested at Simón Bolívar International Airport near Caracas while attempting to travel to Russia, according to a social media post from Venezuelan law enforcement.
Francis, whose nickname “Fat Leonard” came from his then-400-pound heft, pleaded guilty to bribery and fraud charges in 2015.
The investigation into the corruption scandal began in 2013 and touched on capitals and ports across the Pacific, including Singapore, Tokyo, Bangkok and Manila. During the probe, multiple Navy officials were arrested and accused of accepting cash, prostitutes and all-expenses-paid trips in exchange for steering ships to ports where Francis’ contracting company operated, providing services such as fuel and tugboats.
He was originally scheduled to appear Thursday before a federal judge in San Diego, but a spokesperson for the US attorney’s office for the Southern District of California told CNN the judge was informed the defendant is in custody in Venezuela. A subsequent hearing has been scheduled for December 14.
It remains unclear whether and how quickly Venezuelan authorities may cooperate with the US government’s request for extradition. While the two nations have an extradition treaty, it only covers a limited series of offenses. And the Biden administration’s refusal to recognize the regime of Nicolás Maduro could pose diplomatic challenges to the US Justice Department’s request for cooperation from Venezuelan authorities.