Former OSU employee charged with using federal funds to develop research sent to China

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) – A former Ohio State University employee has been accused of using federal grant money to develop research that was then funneled to China.

Song Guo Zheng, 57, of Hilliard, a rheumatology professor and researcher, is charged with grant fraud for allegedly using approximately $4.1 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help develop China’s expertise in rheumatology and immunology, according to United States Attorney David M. DeVillers of the Southern District of Ohio, whose office filed the charges.

He is also charged with making false statements about maintaining employment in China at the same time he was employed at universities in the United States, including The Ohio State University.

Zheng was arrested on May 22 after arriving in Anchorage, Alaska, preparing to board a charter flight to China.

DeVillers’ office alleges that when Zheng was arrested, he 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 several other items.

“We allege that Zheng was preparing to flee the country after he learned that his employer had begun an administrative process into whether or not he was complying with rules governing taxpayer-funded grants,” said DeVillers in a press release announcing the charges. “This is our office’s third recent case involving the illegal transfer of intellectual property and research to China. This underscores our commitment to work with the FBI, the Department of Health and Human Services, and our research institutions to protect our country’s position as a global leader in research and innovation, and to punish those who try to exploit and undermine that position.” 

“The taxpayers of the United States are the real victims when researchers defraud our government and exploit our system to benefit China,” stated FBI Cincinnati Special Agent in Charge Chris Hoffman. “The cutting-edge technologies that are being developed in our country must be carefully protected from our foreign adversaries and the FBI will continue to work with our partners to safeguard these important innovations.”

A criminal complaint filed May 23 and unsealed Thursday shows Zheng is charged with one count of fraud or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, a crime punishable by up to ten years in prison, and one count of making false statements, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

An affidavit filed with the complaint alleges that, since 2013, Zheng has been participating in a Chinese Talent Plan, a program established by the Chinese government to recruit individuals with knowledge or access to foreign technology intellectual property. Since then, Zheng has used research conducted in the U.S. to benefit the People’s Republic of China. Zheng allegedly failed to disclose conflicts of interest or his foreign commitments to his U.S. employers or to the NIH.

On Thursday, Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Preston Deavers ordered Zheng held without bond because he is a flight risk. 

The case will be presented to a federal grand jury for possible indictment. 

The investigation is continuing.

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