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Federal judge reschedules China-linked US Navy officer’s trial over COVID-19 risks

The federal courthouse in downtown Jacksonville. (Steve Patterson/Jacksonville.com/TNS)

A federal judge has rescheduled until November a Jacksonville-based U.S. Navy officer’s trial on charges rooted in his relationship with a Chinese business executive, citing health concerns from the resurgent COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m sure that nobody wants to run the risk with the severity of the current situation,” Senior U.S. District Judge Harvey Schlesinger told attorneys who had arrived at court Monday ready to begin Lt. Fan Yang’s trial.

U.S. Navy Lt. Fan Yang, left, explains systems in the P-8A Poseidon aircraft in this 2018 photo. (Steve Patterson/TNS)

Jailed since October 2019, Yang is the last of four people indicted in a case that used information from secret foreign-intelligence surveillance warrants to have his fate decided.

The four were arrested after agents probed Shanghai Breeze Technology Co. Chairman Ge Songtao‘s attempts to export American-made inflatable commando rafts and military-grade engines that Ge hoped to reverse-engineer for production in China. Ge took a plea deal and was sentenced last month to 42 months in prison.

Yang’s case had been delayed previously by the pandemic, including a continuance his own attorney was granted before being vaccinated because of the health risks involved in entering a county jail — where infection can spread easily — to discuss trial plans with his client.

Defense lawyer Charles Truncale didn’t dispute Schlesinger’s ruling but said Yang shouldn’t have to wait behind bars indefinitely if the pandemic drags out further.

“I’m just concerned about him sitting in jail for another year,” defense lawyer Charles Truncale told the judge.

Yang, whose charges were changed in a new indictment last year, is accused of making two straw purchases of pistols for Ge, a Chinese Navy veteran and firearms enthusiast whose ex-assistant testified he referred to the guns as his “toys.” Yang, whose wife worked for Ge’s company as a consultant and was indicted along with him, is also charged with trying to hide the extent of his connection to Ge during a routine Navy review of his top-secret security clearance.

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