Texas A&M Professor Arrested For Allegedly Lying About China Ties While Accepting NASA Funding

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Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
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A Texas A&M professor was arrested for allegedly hiding ties with the Chinese government while accepting federally funded grants, the Justice Department said in a statement Monday.

Zhengdong Cheng, 53, was arrested Sunday and charged with conspiracy, making false statements and wire fraud after allegedly lying over the course of several years about his ties with Chinese-owned universities and companies while accepting NASA funding, the statement says.

Cheng allegedly led a team conducting research for NASA, which has funding terms that forbid affiliations with any Chinese-owned entities. Cheng is named as a professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M, as of Monday, and has two Chinese universities listed as his educational background prior to attending Princeton University. He is alleged to have hidden ties with Guangdong University in China, among others. 

While accepting funds, Cheng allegedly had access to NASA resources like the International Space Station. He also participated in the People’s Republic of China Talents program, also known as the Thousand Talents Program, a Chinese-government talent recruitment program that in some cases has resulted in violations of U.S law, including espionage, theft of trade secrets and grant fraud and is designed to recruit high-level scientific talent to benefit China’s development and national security. 

Texas A&M has not responded to a request for comment in time for publication.

“China is building an economy and academic institutions with bricks stolen from others all around the world,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick for the Southern District of Texas. “While 1.4 million foreign researchers and academics are here in the U.S. for the right reasons, the Chinese Talents Program exploits our open and free universities.”

Federal charges have been leveled against numerous individuals suspected of hiding their ties with the Chinese Communist Party while accepting taxpayer-funded grants at U.S. universities and sharing classified information with the Chinese government. (RELATED: Former CIA Officer And FBI Linguist Arrested For Sharing Top Secret Info With Chinese Government)

Song Guo Zheng, who was an employee at the Ohio State University among other American universities, was arrested in May and charged with lying about his ties with China while accepting grant funding, Zheng was also a participant of the China Talents Program. 

Only a few months prior, former Emory University professor Dr. Xiao-Jiang Li was sentenced after failing to report foreign income he earned from two Chinese Universities while applying for funding from the National Institute of Health. Li was also a participant of the China Talents Program.