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Navy sailor formerly stationed in Norfolk found guilty of attempted espionage

Bryce Pedicini, a Navy chief fire controlman who was assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins in 2023, has been charged with espionage. (Candice Villarreal/U.S. Navy/Getty Images/TNS)

A Navy chief was convicted of attempted espionage last week in a San Diego military court after he was accused of providing classified documents to a foreign contact while stationed in Norfolk and Japan.

Chief Fire Controlman Bryce S. Pedicini was found guilty of attempted espionage, failure to obey a lawful order and attempted violation of a lawful order, according to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The verdict was handed down Friday after a seven-day trial in a general court-martial.

Pedicini is facing up to life in prison and a dishonorable discharge, according to court documents. He is scheduled to be sentenced May 7.

“This guilty verdict holds Mr. Pedicini to account for his betrayal of his country and fellow service members,” Omar Lopez, director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said in a news release.

Pedicini was charged in February with one count of attempted espionage stemming from May 8-17, 2023, while he was stationed at or near Yokosuka, Japan, according to the charge sheet. Pedicini was assigned to the Japan-based guided missile destroyer USS Higgins in April 2023.

He had also faced seven counts of espionage that allegedly occurred at or near Hampton Roads between November 2022 and February 2023, according to a charge sheet signed Jan. 18 by the commander of the Naval Surface Force Pacific Fleet. At the time, Pedicini was assigned to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center in Norfolk.

Investigators had also accused Pedicini of failing to report foreign contacts to his chain of command, failing to report solicitation of classified information, taking a personal device into a secure room and transporting classified information, according to the charge sheet.

Prosecutors argued in a March 15 motion that Pedicini was contacted on Oct. 24, 2022, through Facebook Messenger by someone claiming to be a defense researcher from a Japanese organization. They said the individual offered Pedicini money in exchange for information about U.S. military capabilities and strategies in a region that was redacted from the shared court document.

This kind of solicitation is a tactic used by foreign adversaries to obtain classified and unclassified national defense information, according to NCIS.

Pedicini was accused of sending seven documents to the individual between November 2022 and February 2023 while stationed in Norfolk, according to prosecutors. They said Pedicini, in Japan in May 2023, attempted to send photographs he accessed via a classified defense information systems network.

Prosecutors alleged in a document filed April 9 with the court martial that Pedicini received money from the individual, paid through PayPal to his credit union account. Court documents provided by the Office of the Judge Advocate General do not say how much money Pedicini received.

Pedicini’s defense counsel filed a motion March 11 to suppress statements Pedicini made to NCIS investigators on May 19, 2023, when he was detained. The defense counsel’s motion argued Pedicini’s rights were violated because the investigators did not tell him what he was accused of at the start of the interrogation. Military law says failure to inform accused service members of the nature of the accusation renders a statement inadmissible against the accused, the defense lawyer said.

When asked if he knew why he was being questioned, Pedicini told investigators he believed it was about “classified material disclosure” and told them he had photographs of the front page of two classified documents on his phone, according to the defense’s motion. Investigators did not tell Pedicini he was suspected of espionage until more than an hour into the interrogation, his lawyer said.

Soon after, Pedicini told investigators he believed the individual he was communicating with may be from a Japanese research company and that he was sending information he found on Google, according to the court document.

But around 10 minutes after investigators told Pedicini about their espionage suspicions, the investigators’ recording device failed, according to the defense’s motion.

Afterward, an investigator provided a written summary of the unrecorded segment of the interrogation. An excerpt of the summary, included in the defense counsel’s motion, showed Pedicini said his contact had been requesting classified information for the past year and that he was instructed not to use the base Wi-Fi to send documents or photographs.

Court documents made available to The Virginian-Pilot do not include the judge’s ruling on the defense counsel’s motion to suppress statements made by Pedicini during the May 19 interrogation. An email sent to the defense counsel through the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps was not returned Wednesday.

Pedicini is a native of Tennessee who enlisted in January 2008, according to information provided by a Navy spokesman. The spokesman didn’t provide an age for him, but online records indicate he’s 34.


© 2024 The Virginian-Pilot

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