Columbus, Ohio–A rheumatology professor and researcher with strong ties to China pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal authorities as part of an immunology research fraud scheme.
As part of his plea, Zheng admitted he lied on applications in order to use approximately $4.1 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop China’s expertise in the areas of rheumatology and immunology.
Zheng was a professor of internal medicine who led a team conducting autoimmune research at The Ohio State University and Pennsylvania State University. According to his plea, Zheng caused materially false and misleading statements on NIH grant applications, seeking to hide his participation in Chinese Talent Plans and his affiliation and collaboration with a Chinese university controlled by the Chinese government. Making false statements to the federal government is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.
Zheng was arrested Friday, May 22, 2020, after he arrived in Anchorage, Alaska, aboard a charter flight and as he prepared to board another charter flight to China. When he was arrested, he was carrying three large bags, one small suitcase and a briefcase containing two laptops, three cell phones, several USB drives, several silver bars, expired Chinese passports for his family, deeds for property in China and other items.
He was transported to the Southern District of Ohio and made his first federal court appearance in Columbus on July 7, 2020.
According to court documents, since 2013, Zheng had been participating in a Chinese Talent Plan, a program established by the Chinese government to recruit individuals with knowledge or access to foreign technology intellectual property. Since that time, Zheng used research conducted in the United States to benefit the People’s Republic of China. Zheng failed to disclose conflicts of interest or his foreign commitments to his American employers or to the NIH.