Friday, March 1, 2024

Fats Leonard snookered by Venezuelans into pondering he would go free

Fats Leonard, the celebrated con man and fugitive from U.S. justice, acquired snookered in the long run.

As lately as Monday, Leonard Glenn Francis thought he was on the verge of completely gaining his liberty after 15 months of attempting to outrun U.S. officers, in keeping with Francis’s legal professional and others who’ve been in touch with him. He texted his mom from a Caracas jail to let her know that Venezuelan officers had promised to launch him from custody to obtain medical remedy and that he anticipated to win his full freedom by the tip of the yr.

The truth is, it was all a ruse hatched by Venezuelan safety officers so Francis wouldn’t legally contest his switch again to U.S. custody as half of a bigger prisoner swap that the 2 international locations negotiated in secret over the previous a number of months.

On Wednesday, as a substitute of strolling free, the 59-year-old Francis was bundled onto a small jet by Venezuelan officers and flown from Caracas to the tiny Caribbean island of Canouan — a part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a rustic within the West Indies. There, together with 10 People who had been held prisoner in Venezuela, he was handed over to U.S. officers in trade for a Venezuelan diplomat who had been going through cash laundering prices in Florida, in keeping with information organizations in St. Vincent.

U.S. authorities transported Francis to Miami the place he remained locked up in a federal jail on Thursday, in keeping with a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons. Within the coming days, the Malaysian protection contractor is predicted to be transferred to San Diego so he can lastly be sentenced — 9 years after he pleaded responsible to federal bribery and fraud prices — for masterminding probably the most in depth corruption case in U.S. army historical past.

Who’s ‘Fats Leonard,’ the fugitive Venezuela turned over to the U.S.?

His recapture marks the tip of a 15-month odyssey during which he bamboozled federal officers into pondering he was terminally unwell, escaped federal residence detention in San Diego and fled to Mexico, Cuba and at last Venezuela, all in hopes of profitable refuge in a rustic that wouldn’t extradite him to the US.

Francis had informed members of the family and different confidants in current days that he was optimistic he could be launched imminently from Venezuelan custody and given his freedom after a long-running bid to win asylum there.

“Hoping for optimistic end result earlier than the yr ends,” he wrote in a textual content Monday to Sarah Macdonald, a British journalist and filmmaker who’s producing a documentary about how Francis bribed scores of U.S. Navy officers whereas defrauding the Pentagon of an estimated $50 million. She shared the textual content trade with The Washington Submit.

When Macdonald requested if he meant he was about to be sprung from jail, he responded: “Let’s see in 12 days 😊.”

Francis despatched related messages Monday to his mom in Kuala Lumpur, in keeping with an individual in contact together with his household in Malaysia.

Marco Rodriguez-Acosta, a Venezuelan lawyer who represents Francis, mentioned his consumer all of a sudden modified his thoughts in current weeks about his authorized technique for profitable his freedom. The legal professional mentioned Francis instructed him final month to drop long-planned efforts to file a authorized petition for his launch from Venezuelan custody, apparently as a result of somebody had satisfied him that he was about to be launched by means of casual channels as a substitute.

“I’m satisfied he was deceived,” Rodriguez-Acosta mentioned.

He mentioned Venezuelan officers didn’t legally notify him or Francis of the fugitive’s pending switch or give him a chance to contest it in court docket. Rodriguez-Acosta referred to as the end result “a tough blow for individuals who nonetheless belief within the independence of powers.”

Francis was the proprietor of Glenn Protection Marine Asia, a Singapore-based protection contractor that resupplied U.S. warships throughout port calls in Asia for almost 1 / 4 century. In January 2015, he pleaded responsible to federal fraud and bribery prices.

However his sentencing was delayed for years as a result of he agreed to cooperate with the Justice Division as a part of his plea discount and supply incriminating proof in opposition to a whole bunch of U.S. Navy officers whom he lavished with costly meals, prostitutes and different presents.

Francis was apprehended by Venezuelan authorities in Caracas in September 2022 on an Interpol Purple Discover 16 days after he escaped from home arrest in San Diego by slicing off a GPS ankle monitor and fleeing to Mexico.

However U.S. authorities have been unable to formally request his extradition from Venezuela as a result of Washington doesn’t have diplomatic relations with the federal government of President Nicolás Maduro. In consequence, Francis remained in authorized limbo — and in detention in a Caracas jail — whereas his asylum case stalled within the Venezuelan courts.

In trade for Francis and 10 People who had been detained by Maduro’s authorities, President Biden agreed to grant clemency to Alex Saab, a Maduro ally who was awaiting trial in Miami on federal cash laundering prices. Saab, 51, was arrested final yr in Cape Verde whereas touring to Iran and later extradited to the US.

The prisoner swap occurred Wednesday on the Caribbean island of Canouan — impartial floor, given the absence of formal diplomatic relations between Washington and Maduro’s authorities, in keeping with Searchlight, a information website that covers St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

U.S. officers handed over Saab, who then returned to a hero’s welcome in Caracas and met with Maduro on the presidential palace. Among the freed American prisoners then have been transported from Canouan to a army base in San Antonio. Francis was taken on a separate flight to Miami.

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