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'He is a risk taker' | Massive manhunt for 'Fat Leonard' expands

Leonard Francis took the brazen step of cutting off his GPS monitoring device and fleeing house arrest here in San Diego over the weekend.

SAN DIEGO — The manhunt continues for "Fat Leonard," the man accused of masterminding one of the biggest public corruption scandals in U.S. military history.

58-year-old Leonard Francis was going to face sentencing in a few weeks, but officials say he cut off his GPS device on Sunday, and disappeared.

Francis was facing up to 25 years behind bars during his sentencing on September 22.

"I guess I was shocked," said journalist and podcaster Tom Wright. "I didn't expect him to sever his anklet bracelet and go on the lam."

Wright has had access to Leonard Francis -- aka 'Fat Leonard' for his large size -- unlike anyone else, talking with Francis for over 20 hours for a nine-part podcast series that's now being developed for television.

"Every other day I would talk to him," Wright told CBS 8. "I was here in Singapore and he was under house arrest. and I got to know him: and he is a risk taker."

The uber-wealthy Malaysian defense contractor was the mastermind behind a complex bribery scheme, in which Francis supplied naval officials with travel, lavish gifts and prostitutes in exchange for classified information, which Francis used to overbill the U.S. government by at least $35 million.

Battling cancer, Francis had been under house arrest in San Diego since 2018, as he awaited sentencing.

"He had done jail as a young man for an armed robbery," Wright added. "So, this kind of behavior from him just days away from sentencing is not that unexpected."

He took the brazen step of cutting off his GPS monitoring device and fleeing, in what authorities said appears to have been a well-planned operation: in fact, neighbors report seeing U-Hauls coming in and out of the home in the days leading up to his escape.

"The movers were able to come in, move everything out," Wright said. "Only his severed ankle bracelet was left in the house."

Another mystery, at this point: the whereabouts of three of Francis' kids, who Wright said had been staying with him under house arrest.

"That's another interesting question," Wright added. "So, if he is on the run with three teen-age children that is going to change the equation for him. And of course, if he's got terminal kidney cancer that's also going to make things very difficult."

The U.S. Marshals Service said that law enforcement alerts to be on the lookout for Francis have been widely issued. including throughout Mexico, as well as Malaysia. 

"He would be a tough guy to go incognito just because of his health issues, and his health issues in general," said Supervisor Deputy U.S. Marshal Omar Castillo. "So, we definitely think he planned this out. and we'll follow every lead that we get."

For information on submitting a tip -- anonymously - to the U.S. Marshals in this ongoing search for Leonard Francis, click here

To check out the nine-part 'Fat Leonard Podcast,' by Project Brazen, click here.

WATCH RELATED: 'Fat Leonard' currently awaiting sentencing in Navy bribery scheme, now on the run (September 2022)

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