Navy chief could face severe sentence if convicted of espionage

by Vern Evans

News this week that a Navy chief is facing espionage charges for allegedly passing classified information to a foreign government contact highlights the rarity of such cases in the military justice system, even as civilian legal analysts warn that Chief Fire Controlman (AEGIS) Bryce Steven Pedicini could face a severe sentence if convicted.

When Pedicini will have his day in court remains unclear. The Navy’s public court docket shows a motions hearing took place on Wednesday of this week, but Naval Surface Forces officials declined to say what that hearing entailed when asked by Navy Times Thursday.

Command spokesman Cmdr. Arlo Abrahamson also declined to say if or when a trial date had been set.

He also declined to say why Pedicini was being tried in the military justice system.

Other U.S. sailors charged and convicted in the past year for giving sensitive military information to Chinese officials were prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department.

“We don’t have any additional information to pass at this time about yesterday’s hearing and we don’t discuss internal legal deliberations and discussions about case jurisdictions,” Abrahamson said in an email Thursday. “Potential future hearings will be listed in the Navy’s public court docket.”

What became clear this week is that espionage charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ, have been rare in the Navy in recent years.

The Navy said it had no records of a sailor being charged for espionage, Article 103a of the UCMJ, in at least the past five years.

Espionage charges are as rare as the alleged crime is serious, according to Lauren Hanzel, a former Navy attorney now in private practice.

“I couldn’t tell you exactly how often espionage is charged, but I can say that it has probably only been charged a handful of times in the last 10 years in the Navy,” said Hanzel, who spent a decade as a Navy attorney and reviewed Pedicini’s charge sheet.

While the maximum sentence for a specification of espionage is death, Hanzel noted that will not apply in this case as Pedicini was not charged with espionage as a capital offense.

But the chief faces eight specifications of espionage, according to his charge sheet.

“For each of these espionage charges, and for the attempted espionage, the maximum sentence is confinement for life, with or without the possibility of parole, a dishonorable discharge, and total forfeiture of pay and allowances,” she said.

Currently assigned to the Japan-based destroyer Higgins, Pedicini has been held in pre-trial confinement since May, according to Navy records.

Pedicini is accused of delivering a classified national defense document to “a citizen and employee of a foreign government” on Nov. 22, 2022, in Hampton Roads, Virginia, and that the chief had “reason to believe that it would be used to the injury of the United States and the advantage of a foreign nation,” his charge sheet states.

The charge sheet does not state which foreign nation Pedicini allegedly worked with.

But the chief is also accused of delivering similar classified information to a foreign contact seven other times, with the most recent alleged occurrence taking place on May 17 in Yokosuka, Japan.

Two days later, on May 19, Pedicini was placed in pre-trial confinement, according to his charge sheet.

Pedicini is also accused of wrongly transporting information he believed to be classified, and for processing material he believed to be classified “on a system that was not approved for classified material” in May in Yokosuka, his charge sheet states.

Prosecutors also allege he failed to report a foreign contact in Yokosuka in April, and that he failed “to report solicitation of classified information by an unauthorized person.”

Pedicini is also accused of taking a personal electronic device into a secure room aboard Barge APL-67 in Yokosuka in May, according to his charge sheet.

He also faces multiple charge specifications for communicating defense information to foreign contacts from December 2022 to May in Hampton Roads.

If a service member is convicted of more than one offense at a general court-martial, the sentences for each can be added together and served concurrently, Hanzel noted.

“The sheer amount of them … could lead to a significant sentence,” she said.

Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at geoffz@militarytimes.com.

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