A Navy flight officer was sentenced to four years in prison on Wednesday after federal officials discovered he lied on his security clearance paperwork to hide his connections to China and the head of a Chinese defense contracting firm, as well as violations of gun laws.
The case of Lt. Fan Yang, revealed in court documents and a Justice Department press release, started before Yang became an officer in 2013 and eventually grew to include his family business and wife as money flowed in from employment contracts he signed with Chinese partners.
Yang lived in Jacksonville, Florida and was a crew member on one of the Navy's P-8 Poseidon aircraft. A naturalized citizen since 2006, Yang joined the Navy briefly from 2005 to 2007 but was discharged, according to court records. He re-joined the service as an Officer Candidate School applicant after getting a degree in electrical engineering.
Sometime in between all these events, Yang met a Chinese citizen named Songtao Ge, according to the Justice Department. Ge is described in court documents as "Chairman of Shanghai Breeze Technology Co. Ltd" who, during his many trips to the U.S. between 2013 and 2018, "invested time and money in obtaining tactical weapons training by hiring U.S.-based firearms and tactical instructors with prior military experience."
The relationship between Yang and Ge grew during those years and by 2016 Yang got the Chinese businessman to hire his wife, Yang Yang, to "handle business operations, conduct business negotiations, collaborate with other factories, declare products at customs, and conduct other similar business" for the company in exchange for an initial salary of $3,000 per month.
"The money was used to pay Yang Yang's salary, Shanghai Breeze's expenses in the United States, and for goods that [Ge] ordered the Yangs to purchase," the press release explained.
The funds were "frequently routed through the Yangs' family business," it added.
The Navy officer started to run into trouble in 2017 and again in 2018 when he purchased two 9mm handguns and filled out paperwork declaring they were for his use. Yet Ge "reimbursed the Yangs for both purchases and had [one] pistol engraved with his initials -- 'G.S.T.' -- and the phrase 'Never Out of the Fight.'"
This led to two of the charges against Yang: lying on firearms forms and conspiring to violate firearms laws that prohibit ownership by foreigners.
Yang ran afoul of the law again on his security clearance paperwork. According to court documents, he had had a top secret security clearance since 2012. However, in renewing that clearance in 2019, he omitted his relationship with Ge, various financial entanglements with China, and his wife's job with Ge's company.
The couple's relationship with Ge was deep enough that the man had been to their home and paid for the two to visit him in Nebraska. Court documents show that Yang's shipmates told investigators that he asked his Navy chain of command for time off in July 2018, telling them the family was going to "Disney." In reality, the pair secretly traveled to Nebraska and met with Ge.
"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," Special Agent in Charge Michelle Kramer of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service said in the press release.
"Lt. Fan Yang swore an oath to protect this country, but instead he posed a significant risk to U.S. national security," Special Agent in Charge Sherri E. Onks of the FBI's Jacksonville Field Office said in the press release.
Although Yang's case is reminiscent of Jonathan Toebbe, a Navy nuclear engineer who recently plead guilty to sneaking classified documents to federal agents posing as foreign spies, federal officials did not allege that Yang used his clearance to transfer information or intelligence to Ge or any other Chinese nationals.
The Navy, when asked about this case, was not able to immediately offer a comment on Yang's current status with the service.
For his part, Yang was sentenced to four years in prison followed by three years of supervised release. His wife pleaded guilty in December 2020 and ended up serving 14 months of prison time for her role in the charges.
Ge pled guilty in November 2020 to lying on export documents and trying to fraudulently "export special forces maritime raiding craft and engines to China," according to the press release. He was sentenced to three and a half years in federal prison in July 2021.
-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.