Former Ohio State professor sentenced to prison for lying about China ties

Song Guo Zheng has been sentenced to 37 months in prison for lying to colleges and the NIH as part of a scheme to send American research to China.

Zheng was arrested last year at an Alaska airport where he was attempting to bring several laptops, cell phones, and USB drives with him to China.

Song Guo Zheng, a former professor and researcher at Ohio State University, will spend 37 months in prison after being convicted of lying about his ties to the Chinese government on applications for NIH grant funding and failing to disclose his China ties to his employers. Zheng will also be required to pay roughly $413,000 to Ohio State University and $3.4 million to the National Institutes of Health.

”Zheng pleaded guilty last November and admitted he lied on applications in order to use approximately $4.1 million in grants from NIH to develop China’s expertise in the areas of rheumatology and immunology,” said the DOJ when it announced the sentencing.

Zheng’s teaching and scholarship were in the medical field, with emphasis on rheumatology and immunology at Ohio State University. Zheng’s researcher biography states that he has also taught at the University of Southern California and Penn State University. 

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Authorities arrested Zheng in Anchorage, Alaska in May 2020 as he was preparing to board a chartered flight to China while carrying several laptops, cell phones, and USB drives. Following the arrest, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio David M. DeVillers said, “We allege that Zheng was preparing to flee the country after he learned that his employer had begun an administrative process into whether or not he was complying with rules governing taxpayer-funded grants.”

Zheng entered a guilty plea in November 2020, at which time he “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,” as noted by the DOJ.

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Federal prosecutors alleged that Zheng has been involved with a Chinese Talent Plan since 2013. Chinese Talent Plans, according to the FBI, “incentivize [their] members to steal foreign technologies needed to advance China’s national, military, and economic goals.” A typical Chinese Talent Plan requires the researcher to “share new technology developments or breakthroughs only with China,” as they need “special authorization from China” to allow the U.S. host organization to see the same information. 

Ohio State University did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication. In the event of a response, this article will be updated accordingly. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AngelaLMorabito