DOJ: U. of Tennessee Professor Concealed Ties to China to Defraud NASA

Security firm says Chinese hackers intercepted text messages

A professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville has been arrested for allegedly concealing his ties with a Chinese university, and engaging in wire fraud. According to the DOJ, he conspired with China to defraud NASA to get federal funding.

University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) associate professor and researcher Anming Hu has been arrested for allegedly concealing his affiliation with Beijing University of Technology (BJUT) in China, and illegally receiving federal funding, according to a press release by the United States Department of Justice.

The professor — who worked in UTK’s Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering — has been charged with three counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements. Hu has also since been suspended from the university.

“Hu engaged in a scheme to defraud the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) by concealing his affiliation with Beijing University of Technology (BJUT) in China,” reads the DOJ press release. “Federal law prohibits NASA from using federally appropriated funds on projects in collaboration with China or Chinese universities.”

According to the DOJ, Hu had made “false representations and omissions to UTK about his affiliation with BJUT caused UTK to falsely certify to NASA that UTK was in compliance with federal law.”

“The United States Attorney’s Office takes seriously fraudulent conduct that is devised to undermine federally-mandated funding restrictions related to China and Chinese universities,” said U.S. Attorney J. Douglas Overbey for the Eastern District of Tennessee. “The University of Tennessee has cooperated with the investigation, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office values the university’s assistance in this matter.”

Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers added that Hu had “allegedly committed fraud by hiding his relationship with a Chinese university while receiving funding from NASA.”

“This is just the latest case involving professors or researchers concealing their affiliations with China from their American employers and the U.S. government,” added Demers. “We will not tolerate it.”

Hu faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 on each of the wire fraud counts, and up to five years in prison on each of the false statement counts according to the DOJ.

“The University of Tennessee has suspended Associate Professor Anming Hu, who was indicted by federal authorities on felony charges,” said a University of Tennessee spokesperson in a statement to Knox News.

The case against Hu is part of the DOJ’s China Initiative, which reinforces President Donald Trump’s overall national security strategy, as it is the “strategic priority of countering national security threats,” according to the DOJ.

Hu is the second professor to have recently been arrested over ties with China. In January, professor and chair of the chemistry department at Harvard University Charles Lieber was arrested on charges of fraud over his financial ties to China. Authorities allege that Lieber was paid millions of dollars by the communist Chinese government to create “collaborative projects.”

Moreover, multiple professors at the University of Florida were recently fired after federal authorities discovered that employees of the publicly-funded university were sharing the university’s medical research with foreign countries, including China.

Additionally, Confucius Institutes, which communist China claims has a goal to promote Chinese language and culture in the U.S., have been closing down, as they have been under scrutiny in America for years —d especially now, amid tensions with China.

In January, the University of Missouri announced that it was closing its Confucius Institute after the U.S. Department of State notified the school that it was not in compliance with its policies involving visa practices.

Last October, the University of Delaware announced its plan to end its ten-year partnership with the Confucius Institute. In 2018, Texas A&M University terminated its agreement to host two Confucius Institutes at the urging of Representatives Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Michael McCaul (R-TX), who described the institutes as threats to national security.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.

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