A Singapore-based defense contractor accused of bribing U.S. Navy officials with prostitutes and lavish gifts is now allowed to leave federal jail, but his release comes with unprecedented restrictions.
Leonard Francis, 49, entered a not guilty plea in one of three cases filed against him and appeared in federal court twice Thursday in San Diego. At the second hearing, Francis’ attorney requested his client be released on bond.
Federal Magistrate Judge Jan Adler ordered Francis – also known as “Fat Leonard” – to post a $1 million bond, with an additional $100,000 bond to be posted by Francis’ aunt, who lives in Maryland.
Adler also imposed several conditions in an effort to assure that Francis does not try to flee the country while he awaits trial on charges that he bribed Naval officers to make sure their ships were docked at Asian ports, where Francis’ companies allegedly overcharged the Navy for docking services.
The conditions include:
Francis’ attorney, Patrick Swan, who is a former federal prosecutor, said he has never heard of such stringent restrictions on a defendant’s pre-trial release.
But it wasn’t enough for federal prosecutors, who strongly opposed Francis’s release, during the two-hour hearing.
Prosecutors portrayed Francis as an extreme flight risk; a foreign national, with no ties to Southern California, and a strong motive – and the financial means – to jump bond and flee to a country that does not have an extradition agreement with the United States.
“He can go wherever he wants to,” warned prosecutor Robert Huie. “He can go wherever we can’t find him.”
Huie said Francis faces a potential life sentence for his alleged crimes. The prosecutor also revealed that Francis faces additional felony fraud charges, in addition to the bribery charges now filed against him.
Huie warned the Magistrate that Francis could make his way to Tijuana, where he could buy phony travel documents “for a few hundred” dollars, and get on a plane to a foreign country.
He also noted that Francis, who he said has “tens of millions of dollars” in the bank, controls a fleet of 50 vessels that can take him anywhere in the world to avoid re-capture by U.S. Marshals.
“He will flee, and he will not come back,” Huie warned.
But Magistrate Judge Adler said he is required by law to fashion a bond release package, if he determines that a defendant meets the requirements for bond.
The Magistrate did agree to “stay” or postpone his bond order until prosecutors can appeal his decision to a District Court Judge.
That delay will have little practical effect on Francis’s release, because it will take days, or weeks, for his attorney to arrange the restrictive living conditions, and have them approved by the federal probation office.
According to federal prosecutors, Francis allegedly built an intricate web of contacts within the U.S. Navy providing him access to classified information on ship movements.
Court documents show through text messaging contacts within the U.S. Navy, Francis successfully redirected nuclear-powered destroyers and aircraft carriers along with their support ships to ports his company controlled.
Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd., or GDMA, would profit millions from inflated prices for fuel, food and other services it provided, the prosecution alleges.
Francis is accused of offering prostitutes, travel, hotel accommodations and Lady Gaga concert tickets to the Navy commanders in exchange for the business.
Defendants U.S. Navy Commander Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz and Commander Jose Luis Sanchez face charges of conspiring to commit bribery, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison.
GDMA general manager of global government contracts Alex Wisidagama and a senior Navy investigator, John Beliveau II, are also charged in the investigation.
The man many call “Fat Leonard” is used to luxury. Every year his 70,000-foot Singapore bungalow draws crowds for its Christmas light display.
Former Navy commanders said Francis' generosity was felt by Navy officials over decades, according to the NavyTimes. It was not unheard of for the businessman to personally delivered Cuban cigars and champagne when ships arrived in port, the news website reports.
On Thursday Francis, who has been held in federal custody since his arrest on Sept. 16, could barely fit his large body in the courtroom chair.
His attorney objected to the use shackles, saying it was not necessary but the judge denied the request.
The criminal probe recently widened to implicate two admirals. Rear Admiral Bruce Loveless and Vice Admiral Ted Branch no longer have access to classified material since they were placed on leave two weeks ago.
Also Thursday, Navy officials suspended Capt. David Haas from his position as deputy commander of the San Diego-based Coastal Riverine Group. The group oversees port security. Haas has been temporarily assigned to a training group and will retain his rank. No formal charges have been filed against Haas according to the Associated Press report.
According to his Navy bio Haas served on USS Thach in 2008-2009 and then moved on to Engineering Assessment Pacific, San Diego in 2009-2010.
The Stars and Stripes reported that another Navy Capt. Daniel Dusek was relieved of his command in connection with the investigation. Dusek, who served as deputy operations officer aboard the USS Blue Ridge from January 2009-February 2011, has not been charged by U.S. prosecutors.