SAN DIEGO — Less than three weeks before his sentencing in one of the biggest public corruption scandals in U.S. military history, the man known as "Fat Leonard" is on the run.
The U.S. Marshals Service has confirmed to CBS 8 that Leonard Francis, the defense contractor behind a bribery scheme that bilked the U.S. government out of tens of millions of dollars, escaped his house arrest over the weekend.
Officials with the U.S. Marshals said that it is clear that Francis, who faces 25 years behind bars, had been planning this move. Neighbors told police that they had noticed U-hauls going in and out of Francis' home in San Diego in the days leading up to his escape. but failed to report it.
Some time on Sunday morning, Francis managed to cut the GPS monitoring device from his ankle, according to Omar Castillo, Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal.
Francis had been under the supervision of a federal agency called Pretrial Services, which asked San Diego police to do a welfare check on Sunday, after they received notification that the GPS device had been tampered with.
Police arrived to an empty house, although they did recover the ankle bracelet.
At this point, the manhunt is on, with the San Diego Regional Fugitive Task Force leading the charge, along with help from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Law enforcement agencies nationally and internationally are receiving alerts to be on the lookout for Francis, along with alerts at airports and border checkpoints. However, officials with the U.S. Marshals concede that Francis could be anywhere at this point.
Francis' defense attorney, Devin Burstein, told CBS 8 on Monday that he has 'no comment' on his client's escape.
Four of five former Navy officers charged with accepting bribes from foreign defense contractor Leonard Glenn "Fat Leonard'' Francis were convicted Wednesday, June 29 by a San Diego federal jury.
Prosecutors allege the defendants, former members of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet, took bribes in exchange for providing Francis with classified information regarding ship schedules. They then used their positions in the Navy to influence the movements of ships to ports serviced by Francis' Singapore-based company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA). Prosecutors allege GDMA overbilled the Navy by more than $35 million to provide husbanding services.
The trial, which began in February, resulted in convictions for conspiracy, bribery, and other charges against former Cmdr. Mario Herrera and former Capts. David Newland, James Dolan and David Lausman. Jurors were unable to reach a verdict against former Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless.
Loveless' attorney, Thomas O'Brien tells CBS 8 that this shows the lack of strength in the government's case against his client.
"[Loveless] is gratified, pleased the jury listened to us, allowed us to take apart the evidence. Clearly, a number of the jurors decided there was insufficient evidence, as we believe, to convict Bruce Loveless on any of the counts," said O'Brien.
During the hearing, O'Brien requested the case be dismissed against his client. However, prosecutors objected. Both sides will file motions and return to court at a later date.
A sentencing hearing for the four Navy officers who were found guilty is set for October.
The U.S. Attorney's Office alleged that, in exchange for steering business toward GDMA, the officers accepted expensive meals, fancy hotel accommodations, and the services of prostitutes, all on Francis' dime. Prosecutors said the men operated at Francis' beck and call, referring to him in correspondence as "Admiral", "Emperor", and "Boss.''
Francis and more than two dozen others have pleaded guilty in connection with the case. Many of those who pleaded guilty testified at trial, though Francis, who has not yet been sentenced, was not called to the stand as initially planned.
Defense attorneys for the former officers argued that Francis and others who leaded guilty implicated their clients to avoid harsher punishment.
They also alleged their clients lacked the ability to influence Navy procedures to the degree prosecutors claimed, and that any relationship they may have had with Francis was above board.
WATCH RELATED: Jury reaches verdict in 'Fat Leonard' bribery case (Jun. 2022).