A University of Kansas faculty member is accused of defrauding the U.S. government for unlawfully receiving a federal grant for his research while working full time for a Chinese university.
Last week, Feng “Franklin” Tao, 47, an associate professor at university’s Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis (CEBC), was indicted on one count of wire fraud and three counts of program fraud charges.
Tao is accused of signing a five-year contract with Fuzhou University in China that designated him a full-time employee while he was conducting research at KU that was funded through two U.S. Department of Energy contracts and four National Science Foundation contracts. He falsely claimed to have no conflicts of interest in his annual conflict of interest report filed to the school.
“Tao is alleged to have defrauded the US government by unlawfully receiving federal grant money at the same time that he was employed and paid by a Chinese research university—a fact that he hid from his university and federal agencies,” said Assistant Attorney General John Demers for National Security.
“Any potential conflicts of commitment by a researcher must be disclosed as required by law and university policies. The Department will continue to pursue any unlawful failure to do so.”
In May, Emory University fired two of its professors for failing to disclose funding from and ties to Chinese institutions. The school shut down their laboratory after the National Institutes of Health (NIH) flagged their financial ties with Chinese institutions. The university also asked four postdoctoral students working in the lab to leave the country within 30 days.
Tao faces a $250,000 fine and up to 20 years in prison and another 10 years on each of the program fraud counts.
Currently, the U.S. Department of Education is investigation four universities, including Cornell University and Rutgers University for receiving foreign funds, particularly from China and Qatar, and not disclosing them to the Education Department.
Earlier this month, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce had called for providing a welcoming environment to Chinese students by integrating them on campuses. She blamed “constant negative and false narrative” as the primary reason why Chinese students perceive the United States in a bad light and become reluctant to have interactions with their American peers.