A researcher at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville was arrested Thursday on federal charges he defrauded the National Aeronautics and Space Administration by hiding his dual employment with a Chinese university, authorities said.
Anming Hu, an associate professor in UT’s Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering, faces three counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
A federal law, enacted in 2011, prohibits NASA from using appropriated funds on projects in collaboration with Chinese companies or universities.
Hu stands accused of forcing a violation of that law by lying to UT and omitting information about his affiliation with a university run by the Chinese government. He caused UT to falsely certify to NASA that it was in compliance with the law, prosecutors allege.
Hu was suspended by UT on Thursday and may face termination.
Hu moved to Knoxville from Canada after being hired by UT in November 2013. In the resumé he submitted with his application, Hu failed to mention he worked at the Beijing University of Technology’s Institute of Laser Engineering, according to a federal indictment. He also didn’t disclose the position when he applied for tenure.
In the years after being hired at UT, Hu continued his work with the Beijing university, which listed him as a professor on its website. Between March 2015 and January 2020, the indictment states, Hu was listed as an author or co-author on at least six published researched papers that identified him as being affiliated with the Beijing university. Between September 2015 and December 2018, he was identified as the inventor on 12 patent applications filed in China.
Hu also supervised graduate students in the Institute of Laser Engineering, worked on projects sponsored by the Chinese government and remotely oversaw the operation of a lab in Beijing.
“My group there is focusing on super-resolution nano manufacturing and printable electronics,” Hu wrote in an email to a U.S. professor in 2017.
Meanwhile, Hu repeatedly lied on forms he filled out for UT, prosecutors allege, checking “no” when asked, “Are you an officer, director, board member, trustee, or employee of any organization or business entity … other than the university?”
In 2016, Hu prepared a proposal to work on a NASA-funded project and was informed by a UT employee of the funding restrictions surrounding Chinese companies and universities.
Still, Hu continued to seek and receive NASA funds for research projects, the indictment states. Later that year, UT submitted a proposal for Hu called, “Nanobrazing stainless steel containers for breaking the chain-of-contact (BTC) Mars Sample Return Mission,” and in 2018, the university submitted one called, “Printed metallic sensors based on 3D printing and laser sintering of nanoinks.”
Hu worked on those two projects, for which NASA shelled out $105,000, according to the indictment.
The charges against Hu stem from emails and invoices sent in connection to those projects.
“The University of Tennessee has suspended Associate Professor Anming Hu, who was indicted by federal authorities on felony charges,” UT spokesman Owen Driskill wrote in a statement to Knox News on Thursday.
“UT officials have cooperated with federal authorities during the investigation. University leadership is fully committed to adherence to grant procedures and the protection of intellectual property.”
Hu appeared in federal court Thursday and was appointed a public defender. A detention hearing has been scheduled for March 3.