May 29, 2024
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NBVC service member charged with conspiracy

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A United States Navy service member who was stationed at the Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme has been indicted and arrested for conspiracy and accepting bribes from China in exchange for giving private U.S. military information. 

Petty Officer Wenzheng, or Thomas, Zhao, worked at Naval Base Ventura County when he was charged with transmitting sensitive information.

The grand jury indictment was unsealed Thursday, according to a press release from the United States Attorney’s Office. It alleges that Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, who also goes by Thomas Zhao, gave China sensitive U.S. information, including details about military exercises and photos of Naval security, from August 2021 to at least May 2023 that he had access to because of his military position. 

The indictment alleges that Zhao received $14,866 from a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for the information he provided. 

“By sending this sensitive military information to an intelligence officer employed by a hostile foreign state, the defendant betrayed his sacred oath to protect our country and uphold the Constitution,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada, who has served as the Central District of California’s attorney since September 2022. “Unlike the vast majority of U.S. Navy personnel who serve the nation with honor, distinction and courage, Mr. Zhao chose to corruptly sell out his colleagues and his country.”

Zhao was one of two service members accused of transmitting sensitive military information. The second, Jinchao Wei, also known as Patrick Wei, worked at Naval Base San Diego. The Department of Justice called the cases separate in a press release.

“We have entrusted members of our military with tremendous responsibility and great faith,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman for the Southern District of California, in the same release. “Our nation’s safety and security are in their hands. When a soldier or sailor chooses cash over country, and hands over national defense information in an ultimate act of betrayal, the United States will aggressively investigate and prosecute.”

If proven guilty, Zhao faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the two counts referenced in the indictment. Zhao will be arraigned in the United States District Court in Los Angeles Thursday.