Authorities in Venezuela apprehended the Malaysian defense contractor known as "Fat Leonard" after he escaped his sentencing in the U.S. Navy's worst bribery scandal, Interpol, the international police organization, announced Wednesday.
The announcement came just before his hearing in the United States over a $35 million plot that embroiled scores of Navy officers for many years.
In an investigation that uncovered a staggering scale of corruption within the Navy, Leonard Glenn Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 to bribing officials with cash, sex parties and gifts to get confidential information he could use to defraud the Navy.
The latest hunt for Francis ended with his capture at a Caracas airport before he could flee the Venezuelan capital, Interpol's Venezuela director general, Carlos Garate Rondon, said Wednesday. He said the fugitive entered the country via Mexico and would be handed over to judicial authorities for extradition.
The Associated Press said the U.S. Marshals Service confirmed he was detained.
A Singapore-based businessman whose company serviced Navy ships, Francis fled house arrest in San Diego this month by cutting off his GPS bracelet. The U.S. Marshals Service and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service offered a combined $40,000 reward for information on his whereabouts.
U.S. prosecutors have accused him of an effort to swindle the military branch out of nearly $35 million through his firm, Glenn Defense Marine.
Navy personnel consumed or pocketed about $1 million in bribes: including gourmet meals, Cuban cigars, airline tickets and a party described as a "rotating carousel of prostitutes," a Washington Post investigation found.
In return, Francis got tips about marine movements and help rerouting vessels to win contracts for his company in the Asia-Pacific region. Bribes also included tickets to a Lady Gaga concert, according to court documents.
The scandal erupted in a 2013 sting operation at a San Diego hotel. After pleading guilty, Francis -- who was also known as "Leonard the Legend" in some Navy circles -- cooperated with prosecutors building cases against others in the plot.
Criminal charges were filed against more than 30 people. Hundreds of military personnel -- including some 60 admirals -- came under scrutiny, with many of them later cleared of wrongdoing, The Post has reported.
Information for this article was contributed by Craig Whitlock and Maria Luisa Paul of The Washington Post.