According to AP News, a NASA researcher and Texas A&M University professor pleaded guilty to concealing connections with a state-sponsored Chinese university and other Chinese programs while taking U.S. federal funding.
During a hearing in federal court on Thursday, September 22, Zhengdong Cheng pleaded guilty to two counts, violating NASA regulations and fabricating official documents.
Cheng was arrested in August 2020 for false statements and wire fraud linked to China’s talent program.
At that time, the Department of Justice stated that “Professor Cheng allegedly made false statements to his university and to NASA regarding his affiliations with the Chinese government. The Department of Justice will continue seeking to bring participation in these talent programs to light and to expose the exploitation of our nation and our prized research institutions.”
After serving about 13 months in prison, Cheng pleaded guilty to additional charges in a plea deal with prosecutors that sentenced him equal to the time he had already done.
According to the federal prosecutors, Chang allegedly received $750,000 in grants for space research. The federal funds that Cheng received prohibited collaboration, coordination, and participation with China, any Chinese-owned company, or any Chinese University.
Not just getting the federal funds, prosecutors said his affiliation with Texas A&M University and NASA helped Cheng access special NASA resources, such as the International Space Station. This treatment allegedly allowed Cheng to increase his standing with the Guangdong University of Technology, which he also allegedly failed to disclose.
Cheng also did not reveal that he was part of the China Talents program. China’s thousand Talents Plans aim to recruit leading international experts in science and other key areas to help China’s scientific development, economic prosperity, and national security.
The Texas A&M University fired Cheng right after his arrest.In a tweet on Friday, FBI Houston announced the news and stated that the agency “prioritizes investigating threats to academia as part of our commitment to preventing intellectual property theft at U.S. research institutions and companies.”