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'Fat Leonard' captured in South America after flight to avoid sentence in corruption scandal

Sept. 22 (UPI) -- A fugitive and former defense contractor known as "Fat Leonard" -- who was behind one of the biggest bribery scandals in U.S. military history -- has been captured in South America, authorities said.

Leonard Glenn Francis, a Malaysian man who did contract work for the U.S. Navy, was caught in Venezuela after fleeing there to avoid sentencing in the United States, authorities with Interpol said on Wednesday.

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Francis pleaded guilty to related bribery charges in 2015, but he wasn't sentenced sooner because he was also a witness and helped U.S. prosecutors with other defendants and charges.

Authorities said that Francis had been under house arrest in San Diego earlier this month when he cut off a GPS tracking bracelet and escaped.

Interpol official Carlos Garate Rondon said that Francis had traveled to Venezuela through Mexico and was attempting to leave when he was captured. He now faces extradition to the United States.

Francis admitted to an extensive bribery scandal involving U.S. Navy personnel that was rare in size and scope. For years, he gave military personnel money, gifts and many other forms of bribery in exchange for U.S. cooperation on a number of activities that brought him large amounts of money.

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Prosecutors say that Francis conned the U.S. Navy out of at least $35 million.

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The investigation into Francis' activities reached into several ports overseas, including Singapore, Tokyo, Bangkok and Manila.

The inquiry led to the arrests of numerous Navy officials for corruption. In return, certain Navy personnel agreed to steer ships to ports that were operated by Francis' contracting company. The arrangement brought Francis millions of dollars.

As part of his plea deal, Francis admitted to defrauding the U.S. Navy of tens of millions of dollars by overbilling for services like fuel and sewage disposal.

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Francis, 58, faces as many as 25 years in prison.

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