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Photos show SUVs at 'Fat Leonard' house in Torrey Highlands

Neighbor took pictures of vehicles with out-of-state plates days before fugitive escaped.
Credit: CBS 8

SAN DIEGO — We are learning more about the fugitive, Leonard Francis aka “Fat Leonard,” who was awaiting sentencing in a Navy bribery scandal when he escaped over the weekend.

A neighbor took photos of out-of-state vehicles on Wednesday, August 31, parked in front of the Torrey Highlands house where Francis was living under house arrest.

The photos showed a Mazda SUV with license plates from Missouri, and a Chrysler van with plates out of Colorado.

On Sunday morning, September 4, Francis allegedly cut off the court-ordered GPS tracking device on his ankle and escaped house arrest.

He’s described as 6’2” tall, weighing 350 pounds.

Credit: CBS 8

The house is in a gated community called Collins Ranch. It has five bedrooms, seven bathrooms and is valued at $2.8 million on Zillow.

Francis reportedly lived there with a nanny and his three teenage children, under court-ordered house arrest. Neighbors told CBS 8 that they would see the children more often than their father, who mostly stayed inside the house.

Neighbors said they noticed U-Haul trucks at the house for four consecutive nights, beginning on the evening of Wednesday, August 31.

“Members of the fugitive task force spoke to neighbors, and they did mention that they did see U-Haul trucks come in and out of the house.  So, it sounds like he had been laying low and he was likely planning this,” said Omar Castillo, a supervisory deputy U.S. Marshal in San Diego.

Francis, 58, had been under house arrest for the past four years as a cooperating witness in the largest Navy bribery scandal in U.S. history.

During a 2018 hearing in federal court regarding his house arrest, a prosecutor told the court, “He has two guards who are positioned 24 hours a day outside of his door, that if Mr. Francis were to try or attempt to leave would immediately contact the Marshals Service."

Credit: June 14, 2018 federal court transcript

A federal agency, California Southern Pretrial Services, was responsible for Francis’ security, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.

Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 to bribing officers in the Navy's Seventh Fleet with booze, prostitutes, and cash. In exchange, the officers used their influence to direct ships to ports serviced by Francis' Singapore-based company.

Fat Leonard was facing up to 25 years in prison at sentencing, which was set for September 22. Now, he is gone.

“He was planning this and the house was vacant. So, we believe he definitely had this in the works and he was focusing on probably getting out of the country as soon as possible,” Castillo said.

Officers are using license plate readers to try and track down the U-Haul trucks, according to Castillo.

Editor's Note:  An earlier version of this report misidentified the make of the SUV in the driveway.

WATCH RELATED: 'He is a risk taker' | Massive manhunt for 'Fat Leonard' expands (September 2022)

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