The fallout from the September escape of Leonard Francis from house arrest in San Diego continued this week, when the ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to the administrator of the federal courts demanding information on the circumstances of his home detention and flight.
In a three-page letter sent Tuesday, Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley sought information on Francis’ escape as well as the conduct of both the U.S. District Court in San Diego and the Pretrial Services agency that was tasked with monitoring him. It was addressed to Judge Roslynn Mauskopf, the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts who is also a judge in the Eastern District of New York.
Francis, the Malaysian businessman known as “Fat Leonard,” was awaiting sentencing for his role as the mastermind of a wide-ranging Navy bribery and corruption scandal. He pleaded guilty in 2015 to conspiracy and bribery charges, admitting he plied numerous uniform and civilian Navy personnel with luxury gifts, travel, meals and the services of prostitutes over decades.
Federal prosecutors in San Diego said the officials in return helped Francis in his massive defrauding of the government as he overcharged for services to Navy ships in Asian ports. After pleading guilty, he cooperated with the government on cases involving more than 30 defendants.
Since early 2018, Francis has been allowed to live outside jail, under home arrest on a medical furlough because of a variety of health problems. It was while living in a multimillion-dollar rented home in the Torrey Highlands neighborhood that Francis sliced off this GPS monitoring device the morning of Sept. 4 and fled, first to Mexico and then to Venezuela.
It was there that Interpol agents arrested him on Sept. 20 as he was about to board a plane to Russia. Extradition proceedings to get him back to the U.S. have not yet been started.
In his letter, Grassley said Francis’ escape “raises many concerns about the conditions under which he was supervised.” While Pretrial Services, an agency of the court, was overseeing his release, Francis was paying for his own security guards, as ordered by U. S District Court Judge Janis Sammartino. Two guards have said the security arrangements were not very tight.
Grassley wants more information on those arrangements, as well as eight other areas. They include the exact timeline of his escape, what the security cost, and how Pretrial Services monitored Francis.
He also wants information on how many defendants were released on medical furlough in the past five years, how many had private security and how those arrangements worked. Finally, Grassley said he wants to know, in light of Francis’ escape, if Pretrial Services was undertaking a review of how it supervises defendants. He gave the agency until Nov. 23 to respond.
The letter comes just a three weeks after Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland also seeking information on the escape, calling it a “collective failure” by the courts and Department of Justice.
Answers will likely not be forthcoming soon. After that letter was sent, lawyers for four former Navy officers convicted over the summer of accepting bribes filed a motion seeking the same information.
In a response on Oct. 28, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Chu cited long-standing DOJ policy not to respond to congressional inquiries for information or records “during the pendency of criminal matters.” Because of that policy, no documents have been provided to Congress, he wrote. The case against the four officers is still ongoing with post-trial motions and potential sentencings, which likely will not occur until next year.
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.
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