California man accused of spying for China denied bail, public defender

A California tour operator accused of delivering classified U.S. national security information to officials in China was denied bail Wednesday after a judge deemed him a flight risk.

Xuehua "Edward" Peng was also ordered to hire his own attorney after U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Corley ruled he didn't qualify for a free public defender.

Peng, 56, was arrested in his San Francisco-area home Friday as part of an FBI sting operation targeting Chinese intelligence operatives in the U.S. He is charged with acting as an illegal agent of a foreign government.

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US attorney David Anderson announces criminal spy charges against Xuehua "Edward" Peng Monday in San Francisco.(AP Photo/Janie Har)

US attorney David Anderson announces criminal spy charges against Xuehua "Edward" Peng Monday in San Francisco.(AP Photo/Janie Har)

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Prosecutors said Peng, a naturalized American citizen, made at least five cash drops of up to $20,000 each in hotel rooms in exchange for documents on a digital card provided by a person secretly working with the FBI. Peng would then travel to Beijing to meet with Chinese intelligence officers, they said.

Prosecutors allege Peng had made 15 trips to China since 2015 and many more before that time. The cash drops detailed in the complaint against him took place between October 2015 and June 2018. Two of the drops took place in hotels in the Bay Area, while three of the drops took place in Columbus, Ga.

Wearing an orange jumpsuit, Peng used an interpreter during his appearance in a San Francisco courtroom Wednesday.

Assistant U.S. public defender Ellen Leonida argued in court for his release, saying Peng “has every motivation to stay here” and that his adult daughter and sister have offered their homes as bail guarantees.

The DOJ says Xuehua Edward Peng Peng would secure hotel rooms where he gave a double agent cash in exchange for classified information on data cards.

The DOJ says Xuehua Edward Peng Peng would secure hotel rooms where he gave a double agent cash in exchange for classified information on data cards.

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Authorities argued Peng has money, contacts, a mistress and an apartment in China. Judge Corley said she wasn’t satisfied that the presence of Peng's family in California was enough to keep the defendant in the U.S.

Peng came to the U.S. in 2001 on a temporary business visa and operated U.S. Tour and Travel in San Francisco. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted. His next court appearance is scheduled Oct. 15.

Fox News editor Bradford Betz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.