Researcher gets time served for lying about vials inside bag

BOSTON (AP) — A medical researcher won’t serve more time behind bars after pleading guilty to lying to a federal official about 21 vials of lab material inside his luggage as he prepared to fly to his native China, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Zaosong Zheng, 31, who was locked up for nearly three months after his December 2019 arrest, was sentenced to time served during a hearing held via videoconference due to the coronavirus pandemic. He has been ordered to leave the U.S. and is scheduled to board a flight to China on Wednesday, his lawyers said.

Zheng was initially charged with with smuggling the vials that were related to cancer cell research, but pleaded guilty only to making false statements in an agreement with prosecutors.

His lawyers deny that he stole the material from the lab at the Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston where he was conducting cancer cell research. His attorneys say he took the vials with him to continue the research he was doing.

When asked by a federal agent whether he had any biological materials in his suitcase, Zheng lied and said no, authorities said. Authorities found the the vials hidden in a sock inside one of Zheng’s bags, prosecutors said.

Zheng entered the U.S. in August 2018 on a Harvard University-sponsored visa and conducted cancer cell research at Beth Israel from September 2018 until December 2019. The hospital fired him after his arrest. He has been held in home detention since his initial release from custody.

Zheng will not be allowed to to return to the U.S. for at least 10 years.

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