By Steve Neavling
A U.S. Navy sailor pleaded guilty Wednesday to providing sensitive military information to China.
Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, of Monterey Park, Calif., admitted he sent sensitive information and files to a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for money.
Zhao, who worked at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, Calif., and held a U.S. security clearance, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring with the intelligence officer and one count of receiving a bribe.
Between August 2021 and May 2023, Zhao admitted he received nearly $15,000 in at least 14 separate bribe payments from the intelligence officer. Zhao also admitted that he entered restricted military and naval installations to collect and record the information.
Zhao transmitted the information using sophisticated encrypted communication methods, prosecutors said.
“Officer Zhao betrayed his country and the men and women of the U.S. Navy by accepting bribes from a foreign adversary,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a written statement. “While he and the PRC officer he served took great pains to conceal their corrupt scheme, investigators were vigilant in uncovering this shameful plot. Today’s resolution, requiring Zhao to plead guilty to all charges against him, shows that we will act swiftly and decisively to protect our nation from those who seek to undermine our security.”
Zhao is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 8. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Donald Alway, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, said Zhao “abandoned the oath he swore to uphold by providing sensitive information to a U.S. adversary in exchange for cash.”
“Zhao put his fellow servicemen at risk when he yielded to overtures from the Chinese government, a nation actively targeting Americans who have access to state secrets,” Alway said. “I’m proud of the strong partnerships and hard work that resulted in today’s successful outcome.”