JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Navy supervisor based at NAS Jacksonville, his wife and two Chinese nationals are in custody Friday, accused of a scheme to get U.S. military goods to the Chinese government.
News4Jax cameras recorded a raid on the couple's San Jose home Thursday as FBI and NCIS agents combed through the Salamanca Avenue property.
Neither agency commented about the case, however, the News4Jax I-TEAM discovered federal records showing it was part of a counterintelligence operation that landed four people in custody.
The takeover was an uncommon sight in San Jose. It came days after the arrest of Lt. Fan Yang, a Chinese-born man who became an officer with the US Navy, garnering top secret clearance with an NAS Jacksonville P-8 anti-submarine squadron.
"In the grand scheme here, I am thinking that the money is greater, the damage is potentially greater and this could really be damaging to U.S. national security," said former FBI Jacksonville supervisor Toni Chrabot.
Chrabot, who now runs the security firm Risk Confidence Group, analyzed the 22 page Department of Justice document.
Chrabot said she wasn't aware of any similar cases in the North Florida area. She said it exposes the vulnerability of the American government, during the time when China is very interested in gaining intelligence on military operations.
In the DOJ affidavit, agents claiming Lt. Yang took more than $200,000 in payments for firearms tourism, where foreigners from countries without access to these weapons could obtain them.
In another document obtained by the I-TEAM, the Yangs are accused of working with a Chinese company called Shanghai Breeze. Agents contend the four defendants were smuggling American-made vessels and equipment to Shanghai Breeze, to eventually wind up with the Chinese government.
The company that makes the vessels also makes vessels for the Navy, so it may have been prohibited from selling to the Chinese government.
"Overall the biggest concern is espionage," Chrabot said. "Espionage being number one. Number two, bringing others potentially into the country under false pretense is and allowing them to work and target other individuals here in this country that have information."
The allegations are complicated and details convoluted, but military veteran and attorney Randy Reep said it's clear Yang lied to his superiors about his background and his whereabouts in the scheme.
"It would seem that this is just a guy with a love for guns, until you add in that $200,000 maybe that's explainable through family money or something like that, but as it sits right now it looks like something that was a couple hundred dollars is generating a couple hundred thousand dollars for them," Reep said. "That's alarming isn't it?"
The I-TEAM found the Yangs and a Chinese national, Ge Song Toa, have all been detained – as the investigation continues. Zheng Yan was also arrested Thursday in Louisiana in connection to the scheme.
"If it wasn't nefarious and it was just stupidity and a love for guns, that will come out fairly quickly," Reep noted. "If it was nefarious, I think you will see that develop over time."
Both Reep and Chrabot said there were concerns of espionage, but until the case progresses in federal court, they couldn't speculate on the motive.