Tuesday, October 20, 2020

University of Kansas Researcher Indicted for Fraud for Failing to Disclose Conflict of Interest with Chinese University

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A researcher at the University of Kansas (KU) was indicted today on federal charges of hiding the fact he was working full time for a Chinese university while doing research at KU funded by the U.S. government.

Feng “Franklin” Tao, 47, of Lawrence, Kansas, an associate professor at KU’s Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis (CEBC), is charged with one count of wire fraud and three counts of program fraud.  He was employed since August 2014 by the CEBC, whose mission is to conduct research on sustainable technology to conserve natural resources and energy.

“Tao is alleged to have defrauded the U.S. government by unlawfully receiving federal grant money at the same time that he was employed and paid by a Chinese research university — a fact that he hid from his university and federal agencies,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers for National Security.

“Any potential conflicts of commitment by a researcher must be disclosed as required by law and university policies.  The Department will continue to pursue any unlawful failure to do so.”

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The indictment alleges that in May 2018 Tao signed a five-year contract with Fuzhou University in China that designated him as a Changjiang Scholar Distinguished Professor.  The contract required him to be a full time employee of the Chinese university.

While Tao was under contract with Fuzhou University, he was conducting research at KU that was funded through two U.S. Department of Energy contracts and four National Science Foundation contracts.

More: FBI executed warrants to seize $2.7 million in college admissions scandal

Kansas Board of Regents’ policy requires staff to file an annual conflict of interest report.  In Tao’s reports to KU, he falsely claimed to have no conflicts of interest.  The indictment alleges that he fraudulently received more than $37,000 in salary paid for by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 on the wire fraud count, and up to 10 years and a fine up to $250,000 on each of the program fraud counts.

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The defendant will make his initial appearance Friday, August 23, 2019, in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas.

The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the assigned judge.

The University of Kansas cooperated and assisted in the FBI’s investigation.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Mattivi is prosecuting.

In all cases, defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.  The indictments merely contain allegations of criminal conduct.

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