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The name Fat Leonard has become synonymous with corruption. Leonard Glenn Francis operated the biggest bribery scheme the Navy has ever experienced. Under house arrest for years awaiting final sentencing, Leonard slipped away last month after cutting off his ankle bracelet. Now — caught in Venezuela — what will happen to him now? For analysis, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with attorney Anthony Kuhn, managing partner of Tully Rinckey.
Tom Temin: Anthony, good to have you back.
Anthony Kuhn: Good morning. Thank you for having me.
Tom Temin: So he is in Venezuela, let’s start with the question of can we get him back from that particular country that we don’t get along so well with?
Anthony Kuhn: Possibly. So I think we’re gonna get him back. It’s just a matter of what that’s going to look like. So a couple different possibilities there. First, we do have an extradition treaty in place between us and Venezuela. But the issue is that our relationship with the current Venezuelan government is strained, to say the least. So at this point, we are hoping that they’re going to honor the extradition treaty. But it could be as easy as just negotiating some type of return. But we can negotiate around the treaty. There’s no reason to make this last month and possibly a year if we don’t have to.
Tom Temin: And let alone that there really hasn’t been a total reckoning by the Navy of this 10, 15 year episode of Fat Leonard; what about the reckoning for how the heck he got away from house arrest, which, by the way, is a luxurious house. We should all have such house arrest.
Anthony Kuhn: It was. Just looking back, as you said, this is the largest scandal in naval history, involving we believe more than 60 admirals and hundreds of senior Navy officers. The courts have already determined in the past that this individual had been overpaid, at least $35 million for contracting that he had done for the United States Navy. And he did this through forming relationships with these individuals, these admirals and senior officers. He would bribe them with money, prostitutes, tickets to concerts, travel, all these extravagant gifts. And in exchange for that they would provide classified information and in some cases, even steer ships to his ports, so that he could use his company to perform what is called husbanding and at-port services for the ships in Malaysia, and in that general area, and he would be overpaid. He would he would submit invoices to the tune of, as you know, tens of millions of dollars more than what he should have. Ironically, he was captured because he had a mole — NCIS — an agent, one time agent of the year, was his paid mole within the naval investigation services. And they fed, the Navy fed false information to that agent that then was given to Fat Leonard, and he put himself in a position based on that information to be captured. So that’s how we captured them. He goes through the process, he pleads guilty in 2015 to a number of different charges. And he’s looking at 25 years in prison. He comes down with cancer. The judge had previously denied requests for bond because the judge was concerned that he was a flight risk. Clearly, he’s a flight risk.
Tom Temin: Sure, and we should point out this all took place in the United States. His trial on house arrest, it wasn’t somewhere over there, because he’s from Malaysia originally.
Anthony Kuhn: Correct. He’s a U.S. contractor and this all took place in the United States. But he put himself in a position in the United States to be captured based on that information that was leaked. So he was tried in the United States and convicted. And he pleaded guilty, and that was in 2015. So he’s ready to be sentenced, and he comes down with cancer. So he is then placed on house arrest while he’s dealing with cancer. And as you said, a very extravagant house arrest. And as we know now, the judge was very concerned with any potential flight risk. So the judge actually directed that he’d be under constant monitoring. And clearly he was not under constant monitoring, as witnesses have come forward and said they had U-Haul trucks at his house the past few days before he fled, and they loaded up all of his things. They took his things somewhere. And then he cut the bracelet off and disappeared. And he has gone through we think three or four countries to get to Venezuela where he was captured on his way to what we believe would have been Russia.
Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Anthony Kuhn, managing director of the law firm Tully Rinckey. And let’s presume for a moment he eventually gets back into what I presumed to be federal custody in the United States. What do we do with them? I mean, the sentencing was going to happen. But isn’t the escape another crime?
Anthony Kuhn: It is. There is a federal statute that deals with individuals who illegally take flight to avoid prosecution. So most likely, he’ll receive additional charges under that statute and potentially others. It is U.S. Code — 18 U.S.C 10-73. And again, it deals with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution or testimony. And in this case, it’s prosecution. He’s been prosecuted. He’s already looking at 25 years in prison. He knows that. I believe he would have been sentenced this week. And he fled immediately prior to that sentencing to try to get to a country where he wouldn’t be extradited back to the United States.
Tom Temin: And another question arises and this is common for lawyers, but for normal people outside of the legal realm, what took so long from the conviction to the sentencing? Why doesn’t sentencing happen a week later, and he would have been in prison?
Anthony Kuhn: Well, that’s a good question. There’s a couple of different issues that could be at play. As you know, individuals have due process, they have the right to a speedy trial. But sometimes our ongoing investigations, sometimes it’s the legal team itself, that slows things down. In this case, I would expect that the cancer diagnosis and the treatment for cancer slowed things down. And then there’s hundreds of people wrapped up in this investigation. So we’ve all seen it on TV, they turn one guy to try to get the next guy, they try to get the next guy, if they’re in a hurry, and they prosecute all those individuals quickly, then they might lose leads, and they might not be able to capture everybody. So they’re trying to cast a broad net, and capture as many individuals involved in this as possible. And as we know now, there are more than 100 naval officers and Marine Corps officers that are wrapped up in this. And this goes all the way up the chain. I mean, there were retired admirals, which is the equivalent of an Army general, that were caught up in this that were brought back in and prosecuted. In fact, one of them was actually the director of Naval Intelligence, one of the admirals that was caught up in this, along with one of his deputies. And it’s important that we all know that this wasn’t something that he was charged with, or something that they believe he was caught up in while he was the director of Naval Intelligence. They believe that he had committed acts prior to receiving that promotion. But it came back to haunt him. And eventually, he was wrapped up in the investigation as well.
Tom Temin: Sure. And as far as we know, getting back to Fat Leonard himself, this wasn’t criminal malingering, this cancer; whatever was wrong with him, he really was a sick man for a while there.
Anthony Kuhn: Correct. I believe it was kidney cancer. So he was very sick, and he was going through treatment, which is why he was placed on house arrest. Obviously, it would be very difficult to treat a condition like that in a prison, they don’t necessarily have the facilities to be able to do that properly.
Tom Temin: So he could conceivably then come back and put on an act like Vincent Gigante the great mob boss, who faked mental illness and acted senile and so forth to avoid trial. But it became well known that this was not the case.
Anthony Kuhn: He could attempt to do that. I mean, the reality is, it could take months to get him back here. We hope that it’s going to be a quick negotiation. And the Venezuelan government is going to work with us, which, historically, we haven’t worked together. These aren’t two administrations that have worked together in the past. So these police agencies don’t work together well, or haven’t in the past. So we’re hoping that we can have a positive negotiation here and get him returned to the United States. But once he is returned to the United States, you bring up a good point, it’s a burden to taxpayers to put him into an institution or a facility where we then have to provide all of the services. It’s a burden to taxpayers to be able to do that. And it’s difficult for the facilities to treat a condition like that. So unfortunately, there’s the possibility that the judge is going to have to get creative on this one and figure out a way to add this individual in some form of house arrest again. But it’s highly unlikely given his history now and the concerns that were already in place.
Tom Temin: Because some of the accounts said that the local judge there had expressed worry that he could escape.
Anthony Kuhn: That’s correct. She was very clear about that concern.
Tom Temin: All right. So again, fast forwarding, the sentencing then would under normal circumstances proceed once he’s back here, and then a second trial would happen on the flight activities.
Anthony Kuhn: I would expect that to happen. So he’ll return here, and he was already stuck for sentencing. So you know that case, has worked itself out already. And as we know, he was looking at 25 years. So they’ve got plenty of time to figure out the additional charges and add to the 25 years. Obviously, there’s a really good chance he’s not going to live long enough to finish out that 25 year sentence, but there is the potential there for new charges as well.
Tom Temin: And a final question: As a one-time career military Army officer, and just being in the military and seeing this happen, having to deal with supply issues yourself, this must kind of make your blood boil, this whole long case.
Anthony Kuhn: Oh, it made a lot of people’s blood boil. So there are checks and balances in place normally. And in this case, this case is unique because there was a 2006 whistleblower we now know came forward. And that was apparently not properly investigated. And this was allowed to continue. And then there were officers who raised flags and concerns along the line saying, ‘this individual is being overpaid.’ But other officers who were senior ranking officers and were already being paid by Fat Leonard, shut those concerns down and allowed this to keep moving forward. In fact, we know that he was still receiving contracts while he was under investigation and he had received over $200 million dollars in contracts. So this case has really turned the Navy on its head and they have changed the entire procurement process. They have changed vetting that they do and testing that they do for naval officers to include character and ethical questions and testing. So it’s really changed a lot of what goes on and hopefully the measures that we have in place now will catch this type of nefarious activity in the future.