A man authorities say was caught trying to ship U.S. government-funded research to China was sentenced Friday to 37 months in federal prison.
Song Guo Zheng, 58, of Hilliard, Ohio, was also ordered to pay more than $3.4 million in restitution to the National Institute of Health and about $413,000 to The Ohio State University, according to a Justice Department news release.
Zheng was arrested on May 22, 2020, in Anchorage, Alaska, as he prepared to board a charter flight to flee to China.
He pleaded guilty in November to making false statements to federal investigators.
Song Guo Zheng, a former researcher at Ohio State University and Penn State University, pleaded guilty to using millions in federal grants to increase medical expertise for China. https://t.co/CeoNnGc8b3
— Wes Allen (@RepWesAllen) December 7, 2020
Zheng admitted he lied on applications to use $4.1 million in taxpayer-funded NIH grants to develop China’s scientific expertise in rheumatology and immunology.
Court documents said Zheng was a professor of internal medicine and was conducting autoimmune research at Ohio State as well as Pennsylvania State University.
Even as he took federal money, he was being funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Ohio State officials caught wind of the scheme and confronted Zheng, who then tried to leave the country.
At the time of his arrest, Zheng was “carrying three large bags, one small suitcase and a briefcase containing two laptops, three cell phones, several USB drives, several silver bars, expired Chinese passports for his family, deeds for property in China and other items,” according to the Justice Department release.
“There is one explanation for all of this,” wrote prosecutors, who sought a 46-month sentence, according to The Dispatch. “Through his flight to China, Zheng sought to make himself, as well as the cache of evidence discovered on his person and in his luggage at the time of his arrest, unavailable for the investigation into his offense conduct — and unavailable for any subsequent prosecution and sentencing, which would have been successful but for defendant’s arrest.”
The Justice Department said that since 2013, Zheng participated in a Chinese Talent Plan, which is an effort by the Communist government of China to “recruit individuals with knowledge or access to foreign technology intellectual property.”
“Since that time, Zheng used research conducted in the United States to benefit the People’s Republic of China. Zheng failed to disclose conflicts of interest or his foreign commitments to his American employers or to the NIH,” the Justice Department said.
“In yet another case involving the Chinese government’s Thousand Talents program, Song Guo Zheng will spend the next 37 months in a federal prison because he chose to lie and hide his involvement in this program from U.S. research funding agencies,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers for the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
“American research funding is provided by the American taxpayer for the benefit of American society — not as an illicit gift to the Chinese government. The American people deserve total transparency when federal dollars are being provided for research, and we will continue to hold accountable those who choose to lie about their foreign government affiliations in an attempt to fraudulently gain access to these funds,” he said
Zheng hid connections with at least five research institutions in China, said Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.
“Zheng greedily took federal research dollars and prevented others from receiving funding for critical research in support of medical advances. The FBI will continue to pursue people wherever they may be, even on a plane, in Alaska, in the middle of the night.”
“Zheng’s sentencing today is a recognition of the constant threat posed by the Chinese government to steal research funded by American taxpayers,” said Special Agent in Charge Chris Hoffman for the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office.
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