Texas A&M chemical engineering professor Zhengdong Cheng has been arrested and charged with wire fraud, conspiracy and making false statements according to a criminal complaint unsealed today.
According to an article from KBTX, Cheng was taken into custody on Aug. 23 and was scheduled for a court appearance in Houston on Monday, Aug. 24 at 10 a.m.
Cheng allegedly provided false information to A&M and NASA while receiving funding from the university for research he was doing for NASA, according to the Department of Justice.
The grant given to Cheng by A&M prohibited collaboration with any groups from China, including companies and universities. According to the same article, Cheng used this research to further his own standing at Chinese universities and his research positions there, unbeknownst to A&M.
“In addition to the funds, Cheng personally benefited from his affiliation with TAMU and NASA with increased access to unique NASA resources, such as the International Space Station, according to the complaint,” according to a press release. “This access allegedly allowed Cheng to further his standing in China at Guangdong University of Technology and other universities. The charges further allege he held senior research positions there unknown to Texas A&M University and NASA and was able to serve in the People’s Republic of China Talents program.”
The discovery of these actions led to involvement by the Bryan branch of the FBI, and further federal investigation. Assistant Director Alan Kohler, Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division said this was a purposeful deceit of NASA and A&M by Cheng.
“The FBI is committed to aggressively pursuing those individuals who try and undercut our U.S. research institutions and government agencies by concealing their participation in Chinese talent recruitment programs and to hold them accountable for their actions,” Kohler said.
The FBI Houston Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner said Cheng hid his affiliation with the Guangdong University of Technology, as well as other universities, disregarding the rules of his contract with NASA during his employment at A&M.
“These alleged actions came to light through the tireless work of the FBI-Bryan Resident Agency and NASA-OIG investigative teams,” Turner said. “We are grateful to TAMU, TAMU System and TAMU Engineering Experiment Station for providing significant assistance through their partnership with us throughout this case.”
Cheng was set to instruct six engineering research courses at A&M this fall semester.
“We worked closely with the FBI on this case, and we gladly will work with them again as needed,” said Chancellor John Sharp of the Texas A&M System. “No one in higher education takes security as seriously as we do at The Texas A&M University System. In fact, we have received several awards from the Department of Defense’s Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, including one just last month.”
Cheng is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
This is a developing story and will be updated as we receive additional information.