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Two Chinese nationals accused of taking pictures at restricted US naval property

Aerial view of Naval Air Station Key West (U.S. Navy/Released)

Two Chinese nationals who attend the University of Michigan were arrested after entering a restricted naval base in Florida and snapping photographs.

Yuhao Wang and Jielun Zhang appeared Monday in the U.S. District Court of Southern Florida on a criminal complaint charging they had entered military, naval or coast guard property for the purpose of photographing defense installations.

The pair were arrested Saturday after allegedly defying a U.S. Navy Security Forces Master of Arms manning the guard station at the entrance of Sigsbee Annex Naval Air Station in Key West, Fla.

After 30 minutes on the restricted property, they were located by security. Both had cellphones and Zhang, a Nikon camera, with photographs of the Annex property, including U.S. military structures on Fleming Key, the federal complaint notes.

According to the complaint, Zhang and Wang approached the guard station at the annex entrance at 8:30 a.m. Saturday in a blue four-door Hyundai. They spoke with the master of arms who requested military identification, which neither could provide.

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Wang, who was the driver, then ignored the guard’s instruction to turn the vehicle around and “proceeded to drive forward and continue onto Sigsbee Annex in contradiction to the instructions from the MA,” an affidavit by FBI Special Agent Chris Klettheimer reads.

After tracking the pair down, U.S. Navy Security Forces obtained their consent to look at the phones and camera and found the photographs taken. Both Wang and Zhang admitted to defying the guard and taking the photographs, according to the document.

Court records show Wang spoke before U.S. District Court Magistrate Lurana S. Snow with the aid of a Mandarin interpreter. A public defender was appointed on his behalf.

A private attorney was retained for Zhang who is under the custody of the U.S. Marshal Service “based on risk of flight,” court documents say.

According to the Miami Herald, the 24-year-old Chinese nationals also disclosed they were students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor during a discussion with the magistrate about their finances to assess whether they qualified for a public defender and court-appointed attorney.

Both said they had $9,000 each in U.S. bank accounts for tuition payments at the University of Michigan, according to the newspaper. Snow ruled they would have to use $7,500 each to offset the public cost of the public defender and private attorney.

The University of Michigan could only confirm to The Detroit News on Tuesday that Zhang was a student.

Wang’s and Zhang’s arrests follow two similar cases involving Chinese nationals taking photos at the Key West base.

On Dec. 26, Lyuyou Liao was charged with illegally taking pictures at another annex of the Naval Air Station. The 27-year-old is being held without bail. His lawyer argued at a recent hearing that Liao was on vacation taking pictures and that evidence of any crime is thin.

A fourth Chinese man, Zhao Qianli, 20, was sentenced to a year in federal prison last year after pleading guilty to illegally taking photographs at the same Florida Keys installation.

Attorneys listed for Wang and Zhang could not be immediately reached Tuesday, nor could the lead U.S. Attorney on the case or a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice.

Both are due in court for a bond hearing on Friday. An arraignment is set for Jan. 21.

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© 2020 The Detroit News