Fat Leonard thought he’d be freed by being snookered by the Venezuelans

Fat Leonard, a legendary con man and fugitive from American justice, is eventually snookered.

As recently as Monday, Leonard Glenn Francis thought he was on the verge of permanently gaining his freedom after 15 months of trying to elude U.S. authorities, according to Francis’ lawyer and others who have been in contact with him. He texted his mother from a Caracas prison saying Venezuelan authorities had promised to release him for medical treatment and hoped he would win his full freedom by the end of the year.

In fact, it was a ploy devised by Venezuelan security officials so Francis would not legally object to being transferred back to US custody as part of a larger prisoner swap that the two countries have been secretly negotiating over the past several months.

On Wednesday, Francis, 59, was bundled into a small jet by Venezuelan authorities and flown from Caracas to the tiny Caribbean island of Canaoan – part of St Vincent and the Grenadines in the west. Indies. There, along with 10 Americans held captive in Venezuela, he was handed over to U.S. authorities in exchange for a Venezuelan consular officer facing money-laundering charges in Florida, according to news outlets in St. Vincent.

U.S. authorities took Francis to Miami, where he was booked into a federal prison Thursday, a Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman said. In the coming days, the Malaysian defense contractor is expected to be transferred to San Diego where he may finally be sentenced – nine years after he pleaded guilty to federal bribery and fraud charges – for masterminding the most extensive corruption case in US military history.

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His recapture marked the end of a 15-month odyssey in which he tricked federal authorities into thinking he was ill, escaped federal house arrest in San Diego and fled to Mexico, Cuba and finally Venezuela. It will not extradite him to the US.

Francis has told family members and other confidants in recent days that he is hopeful that he will be immediately released from Venezuela’s custody and granted freedom after a long struggle to gain asylum there.

“I expect a positive outcome before the end of the year,” he wrote in a text to British journalist and filmmaker Sarah Macdonald on Monday. He shared the text exchange with The Washington Post.

Asked if he was going to get out of jail, McDonald replied: “See you in 12 days 😊.”

Francis sent similar messages to his mother in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, according to a person in touch with his family in Malaysia.

Marco Rodriguez-Acosta, a Venezuelan lawyer representing Francis, said his client suddenly changed his mind in recent weeks about the legal strategy to win his freedom. The attorney said Francis advised him last month to abandon long-planned efforts to file a legal petition to be released from Venezuelan custody.

“I’m sure he was cheated,” Rodriguez-Acosta said.

He said Venezuelan authorities had not legally notified him or Francis of the fugitive’s pending transfer or given him an opportunity to contest it in court. Rodriguez-Acosta called the decision “a hard blow to those who still believe in the independence of powers.”

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Francis Glenn was the owner of Defense Marine Asia, a Singapore-based defense contracting firm that has resupplying U.S. warships during port calls in Asia for nearly a quarter century. In January 2015, he pleaded guilty to federal fraud and bribery charges.

But his sentencing was delayed for years after he agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department as part of his plea deal and provide incriminating evidence against hundreds of U.S. Navy officers who gave him expensive meals, prostitutes and other gifts.

Francis was arrested by Venezuelan authorities in Caracas in September 2022 on an Interpol Red Notice, 16 days after he broke off his GPS ankle monitor from house arrest in San Diego and fled to Mexico.

But U.S. officials have been unable to formally request his extradition from Venezuela because Washington does not have diplomatic relations with the government of President Nicolás Maduro. As a result, Francis remained in legal limbo – and in custody in a Caracas prison – while his asylum case stalled in the Venezuelan courts.

President Biden agreed to grant clemency to Maduro ally Alex Chapp, who is awaiting trial on federal money laundering charges in Miami, in exchange for 10 Americans detained by Francis and Maduro’s government. Saab, 51, was arrested in Cape Verde while traveling to Iran last year and later extradited to the United States.

Due to the lack of formal diplomatic relations between Washington and Maduro’s government, the exchange of prisoners took place on the neutral Caribbean island of Canova on Wednesday. According to SearchlightA news site covering Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

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US authorities handed Saab over, and he later returned to a hero’s welcome in Caracas and met with Maduro at the presidential palace. Some of the later released American prisoners were transported from Canovan to the military base in San Antonio. Francis was flown to Miami on a private plane.

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