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‘Fat Leonard’ is ailing and the feds are keeping his whereabouts a secret

Navy Cmdr. David A. Morales, left, stands alongside Leonard Glenn Francis, an Asian defense contractor later convicted of bribery, at the 2011 Navy Ball sponsored by the Singapore Council of the Navy League. Morales has been charged by a military court with graft, bribery and other crimes for taking gifts from Francis and his firm. (Obtained by The Washington Post)

Where’s Fat Leonard?

Leonard Glenn Francis, the central player in the worst corruption scandal in Navy history, was scheduled to testify for the first time next week about his crooked dealings with dozens of Navy officers. The Navy subpoenaed the 350-pound defense contractor as the star witness at a military trial in Norfolk, for a commander accused of graft.

In a twist that has caught the Navy officials by surprise, it now appears Francis will not come to Norfolk after all. Federal authorities who have kept him locked up — and effectively silent — since his arrest five years ago in San Diego have told the Navy that Francis does not have clearance to attend. Publicly, they will not say why, or even reveal where he is.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Marshals Service, which had been in charge of Francis’s detention, said he is no longer in the agency’s custody but declined to elaborate. The U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego, which prosecuted Francis and persuaded him to turn state’s evidence, also declined to comment.

Two people familiar with the case, however, told The Washington Post that Francis’s health has deteriorated since last year and that he was secretly released from federal detention in December so he could receive urgent medical care at a San Diego hospital.

They said the 53-year-old maritime tycoon was discharged from the hospital in March and since then has been allowed to live in a private apartment in San Diego while he continues to receive medical care. He is confined there and under round-the-clock surveillance; in an unusual arrangement, he is footing the bill for his own security expenses, the two people said.

Francis’s release and care plan were approved under seal by a federal judges, according to two people close to the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter has not been made public. They said Justice Department officials kept the Navy in the dark about Francis’s status and medical condition until last week.

Devin Burstein, an attorney for Francis, acknowledged in an email that his client had been granted a medical furlough and was being monitored under “24-hour security.”

“Although I am not going to discuss the details of Mr. Francis’s private health matters, the current furlough is entirely appropriate given the serious circumstances,” Burstein said. “The court, the prosecutors and the U.S. Marshals have handled the matter objectively, professionally, and humanely.”

Last June, Burstein said during an open hearing in federal court in San Diego that Francis was in a wheelchair, suffering from knee problems and needing a hernia operation. He also suggested the Marshals Service was giving Francis inadequate medical care.

Prosecutors criticized the Marshals Service for being uncooperative and failing to appear at the hearing to answer questions about Francis’s ailments.

“Apparently, these issues of Mr. Francis’s medical health that the marshals keep are such a significant secret that if they were to divulge any of the information to any of us, candidly, they would have to lock us in a room or kill us,” said Mark Pletcher, an assistant U.S. attorney, according to a transcript of the June hearing.

In 2013 and again in 2015, federal judges denied requests from Francis to be released on bail after prosecutors argued he was a risk to flee the country. They said he might slip over the Mexican border to Tijuana and then escape to his native Malaysia by air or by sea.

Francis’s health is a critical matter of concern for the Justice Department and the Navy. Both have relied on his cooperation to prosecute more than two dozen criminal defendants and to investigate hundreds of other Navy officials suspected of accepting lavish dinners, paid sex and other gifts from his Singapore-based company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia.

Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 to bribery and defrauding the Navy of $35 million. Since then, he has been helping investigators in hopes of getting a lighter sentence.

Court records indicate he has shared mountains of evidence about his contacts with Navy officers since the early 1990s.

In one recent filing, federal prosecutors revealed they had obtained more than 7 million records from computer servers in Singapore belonging to Glenn Defense, which held lucrative contracts to resupply and refuel Navy vessels in Asian ports.

Besides Francis, 22 defendants have pleaded guilty in federal and military courts. Eleven cases are pending.

The only case that has come close to trial so far is that of Navy Cmdr. David A. Morales, a former contracting official whose court-martial is scheduled to begin next Tuesday in Norfolk. He is charged with conspiracy, bribery, graft and other crimes.

Early this month, Navy officials assured a military judge Francis was healthy enough to travel to Norfolk. A subpoena was issued to compel him to testify.

Last week, however, in a closed hearing in San Diego to review the subpoena, U.S. District Court Judge Janis Sammartino would not give Francis permission to leave California, according to the people familiar with the case. They said the judge ordered prosecutors to inform the Navy and other defense attorneys about Francis’s status and medical condition.

Capt. Mike Kafka, a Navy spokesman, said the Navy and Justice Department “continue to work in close cooperation,” but declined to comment further.

The Navy has scheduled a hearing for Thursday to figure out how to proceed in the Morales case. Among the options: move the court-martial to San Diego or allow Francis to testify via videolink.

The Navy has accused Morales of taking more than $5,000 worth of gifts from Francis, including airfare, four suckling pigs, the services of prostitutes and tickets to a Julio Iglesias concert and a Gucci fashion show. Morales has not entered a plea.