JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The FBI investigation into a Jacksonville Navy lieutenant with connections to Chinese nationals added a new twist Friday.
According to a criminal complaint obtained by News4Jax, another arrest was made in a separate investigation with ties to Jacksonville Lt. Fan Yang, a Chinese-born man who became an officer with the U.S. Navy.
Zheng Yan, 27, has been accused of conspiracy to violate federal law for smuggling U.S.-made vessels, flash drives other and equipment that was bound for the Chinese government.
Zheng Yan is named in the United States District Court complaint along with Lt. Yang and Yang Yang. Ge Song Toa, a Chinese national with connections to the Yang's and Zheng Yan, is also facing multiple charges.
Lt. Lang and Yang Yang were both arrested Thursday and accused of conspiracy to violate federal law, specifically prohibitions on firearm possession by an alien admitted under nonimmigrant visa and transfer of a firearm to a nonresident between March 2017 and Sept. 2019. Their home in San Jose was raided by the FBI and NCIS on Thursday.
The case could have bigger implication because Lt. Yang is a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Anti-Submarine Warfare unit at NAS Jacksonville and had top security clearances.
Zheng Yan, a resident of the People's Republic of China also known as "the Mistress," and Yang Yang are accused of trying to buy multiple inflatable boats that were to be sent to the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries Bureau, according to court documents. The vessels and engines were valued at $266,000.
According to a series of emails reviewed by investigators, Yang Yang corresponded with a California-based marine manufacturer about buying the military-grade boat engines. Yang Yang and Fan Yang said in a recording obtained by the FBI that the end user was to be the People's Republic of China. In another recorded conversation, Yang Yang said that because the California company makes vessels for the U.S. Navy, the company may be prohibited from selling its products to China, according to the complaint. She noted the U.S. and China are not allies.
A search of government shipping records showed there have been about 24 exports, including at least 10 vessels, sent from the U.S. to Shanghai Breeze Technology in Shanghai, a company with ties to Ge Song Tao.
Some of the exports were facilitated by BQ Tree in Jacksonville, a company started by Lt. Yang and his wife Yang Yang, from March 2017 to Jan. 2017, according to the complaint.
"The reality is, the Chinese government can't get them unless it's through a third party, a straw man," said Jacksonville attorney Randy Reep. "Phony companies or U.S. citizens who are willing to buy from a company and ship them out."
Another component to the investigation is the alleged export of flash drives and the data they might have contained.
"My concern would be those flash drives," Reep said. "We'll see if that comes to fruition, but if I'm the one investigating the case, that's what I'm concerned about."
According to records, Ge Song Tao and Zheng Yan were arrested Thursday in Louisiana and was being held Friday at the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center.
The Justice Department confirmed Friday that Fan Yang and Yang Yang were in custody pending a detention hearing.
Lt. Yang also faces charges of making a false statement to a firearms dealer and making false statements within the executive branch's jurisdiction, according to a separate criminal complaint.
The complaint alleges that Lt. Yang was being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by Ge Song Toa in a business relationship that Fan Yang tried to conceal from the Navy and the Department of Defense.
Former FBI agent Toni Chrabot who now runs the Risk Confidence Group believes federal investigators will focus heavily on Fang Yang because he had top military security clearance while assigned to a sensitive anti-submarine warfare unit.
Lt. Yang and his wife created BQ Tree LLC in 2015 and that company received $205,000 in wire transfers from Shanghai Breeze Technology.
Shanghai Breeze paid Lt. Yang to handle business operations in the United States and that business included "firearms tourism," according to the FBI.