University Professor Pleads Guilty to Lying on Grant Applications to Develop Scientific Expertise for China

(Excerpts from OIG News)

  • 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.
  • Song Guo Zheng, 58, of Hilliard, appeared in federal court today, at which time his guilty plea was accepted by Chief U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley.
  • “Zheng promised China he would enhance the country’s biomedical research. He was preparing to flee the United States after he learned that his American employer had begun an administrative process into whether or not he was complying with American taxpayer-funded grant rules,” said David M. DeVillers, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. “Today’s plea reinforces our proven commitment to protect our country’s position as a global leader in research and innovation, and to punish those who try to exploit and undermine that position.”
  • 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.