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Texas A&M professor arrested for conspiracy, making false statements and wire fraud

Published: Aug. 24, 2020 at 12:11 PM CDT
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - Texas A&M professor, Zhengdong Cheng, 53, was charged with conspiracy, making false statements and wire fraud on Sunday, according to the Department of Justice.

Cheng is a professor in the College of Engineering at Texas A&M and a NASA researcher working on U.S. space projects.

Cheng allegedly led a team conducting research for NASA, and according to the criminal complaint willfully took steps to obscure his affiliations and collaboration with a Chinese University and at least one Chinese-owned company for several years.

Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said the university takes security seriously and that they worked with the FBI during the investigation.

“We worked closely with the FBI on this case and we gladly will work with them again as needed,” said Sharp in a statement. “No one in higher education takes security as seriously as we do at The Texas A&M University System. In fact, we have received several awards from the Department of Defense’s Defense Counterintelligence Security Agency, including one last month.”

The terms of Cheng’s grant prohibited participation, collaboration or coordination with China, any Chinese-owned company or any Chinese University, according to the charges.

Authorities took Cheng into custody on Sunday, Aug. 23. He is expected to make his initial court appearance on Monday in Houston.

The charges allege Cheng and Texas A&M University received funds based on Cheng knowingly providing false information to the university and consequently to NASA, according to the Department of Justice.

It is also alleged that Cheng personally benefited from his affiliation with Texas A&M and NASA. He was granted increased access to NASA resources, including the International Space Station, according to the complaint.

The complaint states that this access allegedly allowed Cheng to further his standing in China at Guangdong University of Technology and other universities. The charges further allege he held senior research positions there unknown to Texas A&M University and NASA and was able to serve in the People’s Republic of China Talents program.

“As alleged, Zhengdong Cheng knowingly deceived NASA officials about his association with Chinese owned companies and universities, willingly accepted U.S. government funding, and defrauded his university,” said Assistant Director Alan Kohler, Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “The FBI is committed to aggressively pursuing those individuals who try and undercut our U.S. research institutions and government agencies by concealing their participation in Chinese talent recruitment programs and to hold them accountable for their actions.”

The investigation was conducted by the FBI-Bryan Resident Agency and NASA- Office of Inspector General.

Copyright 2020 KBTX. All rights reserved.

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