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Jurors convicted a Jacksonville-based U.S. Navy officer Friday of federal gun crimes, conspiracy and lying about his relationship with a Chinese business executive who’s now in prison for export crimes.
Lt. Fan Yang, 36, was indicted in 2019 with three other people after investigators used special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrants to gather information about the gun-loving executive, Shanghai Breeze Technology Co. Chairman Ge Songtao.
The others all took plea deals but Yang insisted on his innocence and stood trial the past two weeks on charges that were separate from the export scheme that put Ge behind bars.
Yang, a Chinese-born American citizen, was convicted of making “straw purchases” of two pistols so Ge, an eager gun enthusiast, would have weapons to fire at shooting ranges during business trips he made to the United State two or three times a year.
It’s illegal for foreigners who don’t have green cards to possess guns except under narrow conditions, and jurors were told that Yang bought a Sig Sauer and a Glock in his name for Ge’s use.
'Firearm tourism': At federal trial, Jacksonville Navy officer says he didn't question legality of gun use
Back story: Gun-crime trial starts for Jacksonville Navy officer charged after probe of Chinese CEO
Previously: Chinese CEO gets prison in Jacksonville export ploy to 'reverse engineer' US military gear
Yang, who served as an enlisted man in the Navy, then went to college and rejoined in 2012, had developed a Chinese social media presence, and he testified that Ge arranged to meet him while Yang was stationed in Pensacola in 2013.
Yang later declined a job offer from Ge, but in 2016 the naval flight officer recommended his wife, Yang Yang, when Ge was looking for a consultant to handle work between his company and American boat businesses. After Ge visited the couple’s home in Fleming Island in 2017, Yang emailed a Central Florida firearms academy about Ge’s “firearm tourism” plan to bring Chinese tour groups to experience “different firearms, different techniques and lots of shooting.”
While that idea went nowhere, that year Yang bought the Sig Sauer, which he had engraved with Ge’s initials and the phrase “never out of the fight.” Yang kept the gun in a storage unit and brought it to an Orange Park shooting range when Ge wanted to use it.
In 2018, Yang bought a Glock and took it to Nebraska when he and his wife joined Ge at a shooting range there. The executive was videotaped there getting lessons from the range owner, who posted the video online as marketing.
Yang’s attorney, Charles Truncale, had argued that the lieutenant’s crimes hadn’t been “willful” — intentionally criminal — saying that other people who weren’t charged also helped Ge get guns and that Yang hadn’t understood that what was happening was illegal.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Coolican told jurors the evidence was overwhelming and that Yang had tried to hide his connections with Ge.
The jury agreed, also convicting Yang, who trained aviators through the Maritime Patrol Reconnaissance Weapons School at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, of making false statements in a questionnaire he had to complete to keep a security clearance for his job.
Senior U.S. District Judge Harvey Schlesinger scheduled Yang’s sentencing for March 16.
Unlike Yang, his co-defendants in the 2019 indictment all were convicted of charges involving a plan to export inflatable rubber “raiding craft” and American-made outboard motors for Ge’s company to use in China. The military-grade motors aren’t sold in China and Ge’s lawyer said at Ge’s sentencing that the executive wanted to reverse-engineer the items so he could produce a Chinese-made version he hoped to sell to China’s navy.
Ge was sentenced in July to 42 months in prison and taken to the federal prison at Jesup, Ga., but had already been jailed since the indictment. A federal Bureau of Prison website says he’s scheduled for release in October 2022.
Yang’s wife and Ge’s assistant, Zheng Yan, were both sentenced to time served after entering plea agreements last year.
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