Retired U.S. Air Force Officer Pleads Guilty To Unlawful Retention Of Classified National Defense Information
Jacksonville, Florida – U.S. District Judge Harvey E. Schlesinger today sentenced Fan Yang (37, Jacksonville) to 48 months in federal prison, followed by 3 years’ supervised release, for conspiring with his co-defendants Ge Songtao (52, Nanjing, People’s Republic of China) and Yang Yang (36, Jacksonville) to violate U.S. firearms laws, making false written statements to federally licensed firearms dealers during the purchase of two firearms and making false written statements as part of a security clearance background investigation. The Court also ordered Yang to forfeit the firearms that he purchased as a part of the conspiracy, specifically, a Sig Sauer 9mm pistol and a Glock 9mm pistol. A federal jury found Yang guilty on November 12, 2021.
According to evidence presented at trial, Yang is a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, trained in anti-submarine warfare. As a Naval Flight Officer, he flew in the back of the Navy’s P-8 Poseidon, a land-based patrol aircraft, and operated sensors and coordinated tactics.
Prior to becoming a commissioned naval officer, Yang formed a relationship online with Ge Songtao, a citizen of the People’s Republic of China. Photographs admitted at trial showed that the two eventually met in person in 2013, while Yang was in Navy flight training in Pensacola. In 2016, while Yang was stationed in Jacksonville, Yang recommended that Ge Songtao hire Yang’s wife, Yang Yang, as an employee of Shanghai Breeze Technology Co. Ltd., Ge Songtao’s company headquartered in Shanghai, China. That company purchased in the U.S. and exported to China maritime equipment designed for law enforcement and military missions.
From the time that she was hired, Yang Yang received more than $300,000 in payments from Shanghai Breeze, its creditors, and Ge Songtao’s executive assistant and co-defendant, Zheng Yan. The money was used to pay Yang Yang’s salary, Shanghai Breeze’s expenses in the U.S., and for goods that Ge Songtao ordered the Yangs to purchase. The funds were frequently routed through the Yangs’ family business, BQ Tree LLC.
In 2017 and again in 2018, acting on Ge Songtao’s instructions, Fan Yang purchased two handguns for him, specifically a Sig Sauer 9mm pistol and a Glock 9mm pistol. Ge Songtao reimbursed the Yangs for both purchases and had the Sig Sauer pistol engraved with his initials – “G.S.T.” – and the phrase “Never Out of the Fight.” Each time he purchased a firearm, Fan Yang completed a Firearms Transactions Record (known as ATF Form-4473) on which he falsely represented that he was purchasing the firearm for himself, rather than for Ge Songtao.The evidence at trial showed that although Ge Songtao employed Yang’s wife, had been to the Yangs’ home, and had paid for the Yangs to travel and visit him, Fan Yang consistently hid their relationship from the Navy. For example, in July 2018, Yang asked for time off from his Navy chain of command, claiming that he was travelling with his family to “Disney” when in fact, he and his wife secretly travelled to Nebraska and met with Ge.
Then, in January 2019, while assigned as a tactics instructor at the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Weapons School in Jacksonville, Yang completed and signed a background questionnaire as part of the renewal of his top secret security clearance. That questionnaire (called an SF-86 or eQIP) required the disclosure of a variety of information, including any close or continuing contact with foreign nationals. Yang failed to disclose the extent of his contacts with Ge Songtao, and hid that he had maintained a bank account in China, sometimes worked for his family business, BQ Tree LLC, and possessed an expired Chinese passport.
On November 2, 2020, Ge Songtao pleaded guilty to conspiring to submit false export information through the federal government’s Automated Export System and to export special forces maritime raiding craft and engines to China fraudulently, and attempting to export that equipment fraudulently, in violation of U.S. law. On July 14, 2021, he was sentenced to three years and six months years in federal prison. On September 15, 2020, Yang Yang pleaded guilty to the same two charges to which Ge Songtao had pleaded guilty, and on December 9, 2020, was sentenced to time-served, or the equivalent of approximately 14 months’ imprisonment. On August 13, 2020, co-defendant Zheng Yan pleaded guilty to conspiring to submit false export information and to export the raiding craft and engines fraudulently, in violation of U.S. law, and on March 31, 2021, was sentenced to a time-served sentence or the equivalent of approximately 6 months’ imprisonment and 11 months’ home-detention.
“Lt. Fan Yang swore an oath to protect this country, but instead he posed a significant risk to U.S. national security when he failed to report his contact with the head of a Chinese Defense Contracting firm,” said Sherri E. Onks, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Jacksonville Division. “This act was even more egregious considering Lt. Yang’s Top Secret security clearance and active duty status as an officer in the U.S. Navy. The FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to use our full investigative capabilities to investigate, expose, and prevent further threats to U.S. national security posed by foreign competitors and adversaries.”
“Lt. Yang brought discredit to the Navy and threatened military operational readiness when he decided to make straw purchases of firearms for a foreign national and lie about that relationship during his security clearance background investigation,” said Special Agent in Charge Michelle Kramer of the NCIS Office of Special Projects. “This sentence should serve as a warning that NCIS and our law enforcement partners are committed to rooting out criminality that jeopardizes U.S. warfighter superiority. We sincerely thank the NCIS Southeast Field Office and the FBI for their substantial efforts during this investigation.”
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the U.S. Department of Commerce – Bureau of Industry and Security, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Michael J. Coolican and Kirwinn Mike, as well as Heather Schmidt, Senior Trial Attorney, Counterintelligence and Export Section, U.S. Department of Justice.