Co-defendants in Chinese conspiracy case plead not guilty

The pair is connected Jax Navy lieutenant under investigation for espionage

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two co-defendants in a highly publicized conspiracy case appeared in federal court in Jacksonville Monday afternoon.

Zheng Yan and Ge Songtao appeared before a judge for their arraignment, and with the help of a Chinese translator, pleaded not guilty.

Yan and Songtao, Chinese citizens who were working in the U.S., were arrested Oct. 17 in Louisiana.

Their detainment came after a long investigation into U.S. Navy Lt. Fan Yang and his wife, Yang Yang.

The Yangs, who lived on San Jose Boulevard in Jacksonville, are accused of illegally selling military-grade boats and engines meant for the U.S. government to a Chinese company. They're also accused of illegal firearms violations.

Federal prosecutors said Lt. Yang, a Chinese-born American citizen who held top-secret clearance as a member of NAS Jacksonville's P8 anti-submarine squadron, lied about his background and interactions with Chinese nationals Yan and Songtao.

Investigators claim the Yangs made more than $200,000 off the conspiracy. Prosecutors also filed paperwork alluding to the idea the Yangs, Yan and Songtao may have been linked to espionage.

Lt. Fan Yang and Yang Yang were not in court Monday but are expected to appear Tuesday.

All four defendants are being held in federal custody pending the outcome of the cases.

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Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.