SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Capturing the fugitive known as "Fat Leonard" after nearly three weeks on the run may have been the easy part.
Experts say the Justice Department could face challenges in getting Leonard Francis extradited from Venezuela to be sentenced in the U.S. Navy bribery scandal in which he is the central figure.
"This process is not something that is going to be done in a week," said former Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lipman, who is not involved in the case.
Francis had been living in a rented Torrey Highlands home while awaiting sentencing is what has become known as the "Fat Leonard Scandal".
Francis, a foreign defense contractor, admitted to bribing dozens of Navy officers with cash, lavish parties, and gifts in order to obtain classified information and steer Navy ships into using ports his business controlled, while overcharging the Navy by $35 million for those services.
In early September, U.S. Marshals say Francis cut the GPS monitor off his ankle and fled the country. Venezuelan interpol agents say Francis went to Mexico, then Cuba, before entering their country. They say he was arrested while boarding a plane and planned to go to Russia.
The United States does have an extradition treaty with Venezuela; however, the relationship between the countries has been contentious for several years.
“You’d like to think that the protocols set forth in the treaty and Venezuelan law will be followed. Doesn’t mean it will be, but you’d like to think it will be," said Lipman when asked by ABC 10News to analyze the case.
Lipman has both prosecuted and defended extradition cases during his career. He says several factors can come into play in determining how long Francis could remain in Venezuelan custody.
That includes the terms of the extradition treaty, Venezuelan law, and whether Francis has the right under Venezuelan law to challenge extradition. However, Lipman says sometimes countries can negotiate outside of the treaty.
“You have no idea what’s going on between the United States and Venezuela and what debits and credits can be called on regardless of what the relationships are with the country.”
Lipman also said it is even possible Venezuela decides to avoid any of that trouble by simply returning Francis.
“You’re more problems than you’re worth. You’re not a citizen here. I think we’re going to put you on a plane and say good-bye. If that happened, he could be back fairly quickly. Kind of an informal extradition.”
Francis was supposed to be sentenced September 22. The court hearing was held without him, although the sentencing was postponed until December.
During the hearing, prosecutors unsurprisingly hinted that additional charges could be brought in connection to Francis' escape. In addition, Francis' lawyer in San Diego said he plans to file to withdraw from the case, citing a fractured attorney-client relationship.