JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A woman entered a guilty plea Tuesday afternoon in a federal investigation involving sending military grade boats and engines to China.
Yang Yang, 34, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit an offense against the United States and smuggling.
Her husband, U.S. Navy Lt. Fan Yang, is also charged in the investigation, along with two other Chinese nationals. He’s awaiting trial next year.
The hearing at Jacksonville’s federal courthouse was two and a half hours. A federal judge read Yang Yang her rights, and she pleaded guilty to two counts, telling the judge, “Yes, I did it.”
Yang Yang had a Chinese translator but didn’t need one. She explained she was a Chinese-born U.S. citizen who moved to Jacksonville in 2014 with her husband, a member of a top-secret P-8 air squadron at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
Federal investigators contend the Yangs and two Chinese nationals started a company called BQ Tree LLC and worked with a Chinese company, Shanghai Breeze, to illegally ship American items to the Peoples Republic of China.
Yang Yang was paid a salary, up to $60,000 U.S. annually, and was told to buy eight military-grade inflatable boats and specialized engines from an American manufacturer. These high-end tactical boats can be launched from submarines and dropped out of planes. The engines are multi-fuel capable, able to run off gasoline, diesel, ethanol and jet fuel.
She admitted that she used $114,000 wired to her to negotiate with American companies, buy the boats and try to send them to mainland China. But she lied on U.S. government automated export customs forms, claiming they were going to police in Hong Kong, which has a better relationship with the U.S.
The Yangs were arrested in October 2019. Federal investigators from several agencies raided their Beauclerc home off San Jose Boulevard.
Yang Yang’s attorneys came to a plea agreement with prosecutors before the hearing.
Under the two felony counts to which she pleaded guilty, she faces up to 15 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. She’ll be sentenced later by a federal district judge if that judge accepts the plea agreement recommendation from the magistrate judge who oversaw Tuesday’s hearing.
In the meantime, Yang Yang will remain locked up at the Baker County jail in federal custody.
Her husband and Ge Song Tao, the alleged mastermind, have pleaded not guilty and are set for trial next year. Another Chinese national involved pleaded guilty last month.
Initially, there were concerns that the Yangs were involved in espionage, but there were no claims about that at Tuesday’s hearing.