An American former professor was sentenced for concealing his participation in a Chinese state-run recruitment program, while a Chinese researcher pleaded guilty to stealing trade secrets from her employer in order to benefit China.
For years, China’s central authorities and regional governments have rolled out talent recruitment programs, targeting promising overseas Chinese and foreigners in science and technology fields. Together, their efforts are aimed at allowing Beijing to make leapfrog progress in tech innovations, with the goal of overtaking the United States to become a high-tech powerhouse.
LewisLewis, 54, a tenured physics professor at WVU from 2006 to August 2019, pleaded guilty to federal program fraud in March. Aside from his prison sentence, he was also fined $9,363 for the cost of his incarceration and ordered to pay $20,189 in restitution to WVU.
According to prosecutors, Lewis signed an employment contract under TTP with China’s state-run Chinese Academy of Sciences in July 2017 to become an academy professor. In return, Lewis needed to maintain an active research program in China, produce high-quality, peer-reviewed scientific papers, and provide training to academy students.
Under the TTP contract, Lewis was promised benefits, including a living subsidy of one million yuan (about $143,000), a research subsidy of 4 million yuan (about $573,000), and a salary of 600,000 yuan (about $86,000), according to a Justice Department press release.
With the intention of going to China to fulfill his work requirement under the contract, Lewis made fraudulent remarks to WVU in March 2018, saying he needed to be released of his teaching duties for the fall 2018 semester so he could become a primary caregiver for a child he and his wife were expecting three months later.
ChenChen, 47, a former resident of Dublin, Ohio, worked at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital from 2008 until 2018. Her husband, Zhou Yu, worked at a different medical research lab at the same hospital from 2007 until 2017.
Both Chen and Zhou, 50, have been charged with conspiring to steal at least five trade secrets related to exosome research from their employer, according to the DOJ.
“Chen betrayed her employer of 10 years by stealing trade secrets from this American institution and transferring them to China after receiving payments from the Chinese government,” said U.S. Attorney David M. DeVillers in a DOJ press release.
According to the DOJ, Chen admitted to starting a company in China, selling exosome “isolation kits” based on one of the trade secrets. Chen and Zhou established the Chinese company in 2015 without the hospital’s knowledge.
Additionally, she received benefits from Chinese government agencies including the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs and National Natural Science Foundation of China. Prosecutors did not specify what those benefits were.
“Chen also applied to multiple Chinese government talent plans, a method used by China to transfer foreign research and technology to the Chinese government,” according to the press release.
As part of her plea agreement, Chen agreed to forfeit $1.4 million, 500,000 shares of common stocks in New Jersey-based Avalon GloboCare Corp., and 400 shares of common stocks in Avalon’s subsidiary GenExosome Technologies.
Prosecutors allege that Zhou and Chen co-founded GenExosome, which sold a product that was developed from a trade secret at a Nationwide Children’s research lab.
In August 2019, about a month after he was indicted, Zhou was fired from the company.