A US Navy serviceman who admitted to accepting bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for sensitive US military information has been sentenced to more than two years in federal prison.
US District Judge R. Gary Klausner on Monday handed down the 27-month prison sentence to Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, of Monterey Park, Calif. The Justice Department had sought a sentence of 37 months, arguing that Zhao had obstructed the government’s investigation.
In October, Zhao pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring with a Chinese intelligence officer and one count of receiving a bribe, both felonies.
The sailor admitted to receiving nearly $15,000 in bribes from the intelligence officer between August 2021 and May 2023, when he worked at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, Calif.
Zhao, who held a security clearance, secretly collected and transmitted information to China related to Navy operational security, military trainings and critical infrastructure, according to the Justice Department.
He specifically confessed to passing on plans for a large-scale maritime training exercise in the Pacific theatre, operational orders, and electrical diagrams and blueprints for a Japanese radar system.
“Officer Zhao betrayed his country and the men and women of the US Navy by accepting bribes from a foreign adversary,” US Attorney Martin Estrada said at the time of Zhao’s guilty plea. “While he and the PRC officer he served took great pains to conceal their corrupt scheme, investigators were vigilant in uncovering this shameful plot.”
Zhao, a naturalized US citizen born in China, was arrested last July and had been held in custody without bail.
“He’s ready to take responsibility for what he has done,” Tarek Shawky, the sailor’s attorney, said at the sentencing hearing in Los Angeles, according to Courthouse News Services. “He trusted somebody he shouldn’t have trusted and made some poor decisions.”
Shawky had asked the judge for a 12-month sentence for his client.
Federal prosecutors announced Zhao’s arrest at the same time a second Navy sailor, 22-year-old Jinchao Wei, was taken into custody for a separate alleged plot to pass sensitive security information to Chinese officials.
Wei, who served aboard the San Diego-based USS Essex, was busted on espionage charges after he allegedly provided China with detailed information of the ship and its crew.