Prosecutors file more charges against Kansas professor

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas researcher accused of concealing work he was doing for China while employed at the University of Kansas defrauded the U.S. government and the university, according to revised federal charges filed Thursday.

The new indictment charges Feng “Franklin” Tao of Lawrence, Kansas, with seven counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements. It also seeks, if convicted, the forfeiture of funds obtained from the offenses.

“Franklin Tao is not guilty of these charges, and looks forward to being fully vindicated so that he can move on with his life and his research,” defense attorney Peter Zeidenbert said in an email.

Federal prosecutors allege that from May 2017 until August 2019, Tao schemed to obtain money and property from the university, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

The indictment alleges the purpose of the scheme was to benefit China by participating in its “ talent plan,” which prosecutors say is designed to encourage the transfer of original ideas and intellectual property from U.S. university to Chinese government institutions.

The indictment accuses Tao of not informing the University of Kansas that he was selected for the Changjiang Professorship or the salary for his appointment to Fuzhou University in Fuzhou, China.

Tao was first charged in November with one count of wire fraud and three counts of program fraud. A far more detailed indictment in January charged him with two counts of wire fraud and one count of program fraud. The latest indictment added more wire fraud counts along with the new counts of making false statements.

Tao, an associate professor of engineering at the University of Kansas, was born in China and moved to the United States in 2002. He has been employed since August 2014 at the Kansas university’s Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis in Lawrence. The center conducts research on sustainable technology to conserve natural resources and energy.

Tao, who was put on paid administrative leave after he was charged in November, earns a salary of $110,682. During his time at the University of Kansas, he has been principal investigator on federal grants totaling more than $4.16 million, the university said.

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