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Ohio State Professor Pleads Guilty To Lying On Research Grant Applications

Ohio State Wexner Medical Center on March 30, 2020.
David Holm
Ohio State Wexner Medical Center on March 30, 2020.

An Ohio State University researcher pleaded guilty Thursday to lying on grant applications to develop scientific expertise for China.

Song Guo Zheng, a rheumatology professor and researcher, pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal authorities as part of an immunology research fraud scheme, according to David DeVillers, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.

Zheng led an autoimmune research team at Ohio State.

As part of the plea deal, Zheng admitted that he lied in order to secure about $4.1 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health. In his applications, he hid his affiliation with a Chinese university controlled by Chinese government officials.

DeVillers said Zheng was preparing to flee the United States after he learned that his American employer had begun an investigation to determine whether he was complying with grant rules.

Zheng was arrested in May and made his first court appearance in July. He faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to the felony count.

According to his plea, Zheng hid his participation in Chinese Talent Plan, a program established by the Chinese government to recruit individuals with knowledge or access to foreign technology intellectual property. Zheng had been participating in the group since 2013.

When Zheng was arrested in May, he was carrying three large bags, one small suitcase and a briefcase. These held two laptops, three cell phones, several USB drives and expired Chinese passports for his family. He was arrested in between landing in Alaska and preparing to board another flight to China, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.