Man accused of taking illegal photos of Key West military site changes court plea

Zhao Qianli
Zhao Qianli Zhao Qianli

A Chinese national facing trial on federal charges that he illegally photographed military buildings in Key West appears ready to plead guilty.

A change-of-plea hearing and sentencing is set for Zhao Qianli, 20, on Feb. 5, before Chief Judge K. Michael Moore at U.S. District Court in Key West, according to the federal docket.

Zhao had previously pleaded not guilty to six counts of photographing or sketching military installations. The charge carries up to one year in prison.

The court scheduled his trial for Feb. 5, with a warning that it’s the last day Qianli could change his plea. The docket Wednesday showed no paperwork had been filed concerning a plea deal with prosecutors.

Zhao walked around a fence on a beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park on Sept. 26 and took pictures of the Joint Interagency Task Force South, which is responsible for security and military operations in Central America, South America and the Caribbean, according to the indictment from December.

“At that time, Zhao Qianli, who speaks limited broken English, stated he was ‘lost‘ and only a ‘dishwasher from New Jersey,’” according to the arrest affidavit.

He was arrested by Key West police and charged with criminal trespassing, for which he was convicted Nov. 15 in state court.

Zhao’s attorney Hongwei Shang of Miami didn’t return a message for comment.

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.