In a chilling development, a U.S. Navy serviceman was recently sentenced to more than two years in prison after pleading guilty to receiving bribes to send sensitive U.S. military information to a Chinese intelligence officer.
On Jan. 8, 2024, U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner slapped Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, of Monterey Park, California, with a 27-month prison sentence.
Zhao was ordered to pay a $5,500 fine after pleading guilty to charges by the Department of Justice (DOJ), including one count of conspiring with an intelligence officer and one count of receiving a bribe.
The Navy serviceman could face up to 20 years behind bars. Regarding the conspiracy charge, Zhao could be sentenced to 15 years in prison and an additional five years for the bribery accusation.
A member of the U.S. Navy, Wenheng Zhao, 26, was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison for accepting bribe money in exchange for transmitting sensitive U.S. military information to a Chinese intelligence officer. @RealNCIS @usao_losangeles @irs_ci https://t.co/eKvOFId9A5 pic.twitter.com/08gvwGStNR
— FBI Los Angeles (@FBILosAngeles) January 9, 2024
In a statement, Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the DOJ’s National Security Division praised the department for holding Zhao accountable for his actions.
“Mr. Zhao betrayed his solemn oath to defend his country and endangered those who serve in the U.S. military,” Olsen said. “Today, he is being held to account for those crimes. The Justice Department is committed to combating the Chinese government’s efforts to undermine our nation’s security and holding accountable those who violate our laws as part of those efforts.”
The DOJ reported that Zhao received nearly $15,000 in bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for sensitive U.S. military information about the U.S. Navy’s operational security, military exercises, and infrastructure.
Zhao reportedly had a security clearance and worked at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, California. The Navy serviceman’s criminal actions spanned nearly two years, according to the DOJ.
The Justice Department said that among the information Zhao handed over to the Chinese intelligence officer were specifics regarding a U.S. military training exercise in the Pacific.
“Zhao betrayed his country and disgraced himself when he accepted bribes from an intelligence officer with the People’s Republic of China,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada for the Central District of California said in a statement.
“As a result, he has now been removed from the military and will serve time in federal prison. Today’s sentence shows that my office will swiftly act to root out and punish those who seek to undermine our nation’s security,” Estrada added.