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Rheumatology professor pleads guilty to research fraud scheme for China

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Published: Nov. 12, 2020 at 3:57 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - After being arrested in Anchorage earlier this year, an Ohio rheumatology professor has pleaded guilty to lying to federal authorities for part of an immunology research fraud scheme.

Song Guo Zheng, 58, of Hilliard, Ohio, was a former professor at Ohio State University, teaching internal medicine and leading an autoimmune research team at OSU and Pennsylvania State University.

According to a Southern District of Ohio U.S. Attorney’s Office press release, Zheng pleaded guilty on Thursday, admitting to lying on grant applications to obtain $4.1 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health to develop China’s expertise in rheumatology and immunology. Zheng hid his involvement with a Chinese university and as well as his involvement in Chinese talent plans — a Chinese government-created program made to recruit individuals who have access or knowledge about foreign technology intellectual property.

According to court documents, Zheng had performed research in the U.S. to benefit the People’s Republic of China as part of his participation in a Chinese talent plan. He did not disclose his foreign commitments to his U.S. employers or the National Institutes of Health.

“Zheng promised China he would enhance the country’s biomedical research. He was preparing to flee the United States after he learned that his American employer had begun an administrative process into whether or not he was complying with American taxpayer-funded grant rules,” said David M. DeVillers, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. “Today’s plea reinforces our proven commitment 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.”

On his way to board a charter flight to China, Zheng was arrested in May by the FBI Anchorage Field Office after he arrived in Anchorage. He was found with several items including two laptops, three cell phones, expired Chinese family passports and deeds for property in China. He first appeared in federal court in July after being transported to the Southern District of Ohio.

The crime of giving false statements to the federal government is punishable by up to five years in prison.

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