University of Kansas researcher faces federal charges after FBI investigation

LAWRENCE, Kan. Update Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019

The U.S. Attorney's Office says a researcher at the University of Kansas faces federal charges in connection with an FBI investigation.

The researcher "was indicted (Wednesday) on federal charges of hiding the fact he was working full time for a Chinese university while doing research at KU funded by the U.S. government," the U.S. Attorney's Office says.

Feng, "Franklin" Tao, 47, of Lawrence, is an associate professor at KU's Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis (CEBC). He's charged with one count of wire fraud and three counts of program fraud.

The U.S. Attorney's Office says Tao was employed by the CEBC since August 2014. The program's mission is "to conduct research or sustainable technology to conserve natural resources and energy."

“Tao is alleged to have defrauded the US government by unlawfully receiving federal grant money at the same time that he was employed and paid by a Chinese research university—a fact that he hid from his university and federal agencies,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers in a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.“Any potential conflicts of commitment by a researcher must be disclosed as required by law and university policies. The Department will continue to pursue any unlawful failure to do so.”

The indictment against Tao says in May 2018, he "signed a five-year contract with Fuzhou University in China that designated him as a Changjiang Scholar Distinguished Professor."

This contract required him to be a full-time employee of the Chines university," the U.S. Attorney's Office says.

The indictment says Tao was under contract with the Chinese university while he was conducting research at KU. Two U.S. Department of Energy Contracts and four National Science Foundation contracts funded that research.

"Kansas Board of Regents’ policy requires staff to file an annual conflict of interest report," the U.S. Attorney's Office explains. "In Tao’s reports to KU, he falsely claimed to have no conflicts of interest. The indictment alleges that he fraudulently received more than $37,000 in salary paid for by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation."

If convicted of the charges against him, Tao faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 on the wire fraud count, and up to 10 years in prison and a find up to $250,000 on each of the program fraud counts.

"The University of Kansas cooperated and assisted in the FBI’s investigation," the U.S. Attorney's Office says.

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Tuesday Aug. 20, 2019

Federal authorities are conducting an investigation at a research facility on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence.

FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton confirmed the FBI and Lawrence police were at the Life Sciences Research Laboratories complex Tuesday but said she could not provide any details.

University spokesman Andy Hyland told the Lawrence Journal-World that law enforcement was investigating alleged criminal activity on the campus.

The complex houses research offices associated with the university's Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis, as well as the Bioscience and Technology Business Center Expansion Facility.

Kim Grunewald, deputy general counsel at the university, said the investigation posed no threat to security or to the campus.

It was not immediately clear which offices or companies were operating in the areas under investigation.

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Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com

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