Florida Keys

A Chinese man illegally photographed the Navy base in Key West, feds say

Zhao Qianli
Zhao Qianli Monroe County Sheriff's Office

A 20-year-old man from China walked onto restricted Navy property in Key West this year and took photos of various buildings, federal prosecutors say.

Zhao Qianli was arrested Sept. 26 by Key West police for trespassing and later was sentenced to 60 days in jail. He told officers that day he was lost and only “a dishwasher from New Jersey.”

But now he faces federal charges, filed last week, of photographing defense installations and entering military, naval or Coast Guard property. He remains in federal custody on $250,000 bond.

Zhao faces up to one year in prison if convicted of the photographing charge and up to six months if convicted of trespassing. His attorney, Hongwei Shang of Miami, didn’t immediately return a call for comment Monday.

According to the FBI criminal complaint, witnesses saw Zhao walking along the secure fence line of the Joint Interagency Task Force South at Naval Air Station Key West at Truman Annex at about 2:40 p.m. Sept. 26. He walked around the fence and entered the facility from the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.

The task force monitors drug traffickers who use the waters around Key West.

There is no gate at the beach, simply a long fence with signs that say “Restricted Area.,” which anyone could swim or walk around to gain access to the Navy property.

But the Navy says there is plenty of security at the fence.

“These security measures that we have in place, which are random, they work obviously because we caught the guy,” said Trice Denny, spokeswoman for Naval Air Station Key West.

“The fence line Zhao Qianli circumvented had numerous warnings that noted the fenced facility was a “military installation” and “Restricted Area’‘ warning signs posted on the beach,” the complaint reads.

He spent several minutes taking pictures of buildings and the JlATF-South antenna field with his Motorola cellphone and Canon EOS digital camera.

Zhao spoke “broken English,” the complaint states.

A special agent for the FBI responded to the scene with a Chinese interpreter, who said Zhao had entered the U.S. legally but may have an expired visa, according to the Key West police report. The FBI said the visa had expired a week before Zhao’s arrest.

Gwen Filosa covers Key West and the Lower Florida Keys for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald and lives in Key West. She was part of the staff at the New Orleans Times-Picayune that in 2005 won two Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Indiana University.