Former Texas A&M professor, NASA researcher takes plea deal for hiding connections with China

Zhengdong Cheng was arrested in 2020 on charges of conspiracy, making false statements and wire fraud
Zhengdong Cheng was arrested in 2020 on charges of conspiracy, making false statements and wire...
Zhengdong Cheng was arrested in 2020 on charges of conspiracy, making false statements and wire fraud(Texas A&M University)
Published: Sep. 23, 2022 at 3:36 PM CDT
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - Texas A&M professor and NASA researcher, Zhengdong Cheng, pleaded guilty to charges related to lying about his connections to China. Cheng was arrested in 2020 on charges of conspiracy, making false statements and wire fraud.

A federal judge in Houston accepted a plea deal. As part of the deal, Cheng agreed to pay $86,876 in restitution to NASA and a $20,000 fine. Court documents show Cheng and prosecutors agreed that the 13 months he already spent in jail is “an appropriate sentence in the matter.”

A professor in the College of Engineering and a NASA researcher working on U.S. space projects, court documents say Cheng willfully took steps to obscure his affiliations and collaboration with a Chinese University and at least one Chinese-owned company for several years, according to the criminal complaint.

The former professor received a grant in 2013 to conduct research at NASA, stipulations for the grant included prohibiting researchers who receive grants from collaborating with China. Texas A&M also has requirements for employees to disclose conflicts of interest and submit financial disclosure statements that would outline other sources of income and employment.

While Cheng repeatedly certified to NASA that he was in compliance with the space administration’s policies, it turned out that he “intentionally submitted materially false and misleading information,” according to the plea agreement released Thursday.

The investigation also showed he submitted “false or misleading affirmations” to and through Texas A&M in the preparation of the grant application to NASA.