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Former Va. Tech professor guilty of fraud

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Print this page Michael O'Connor | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

A former Virginia Tech professor studying artificial sweeteners was found guilty last week of fraud.

Chief Judge Michael F. Urbanski of the Western District of Virginia found that Yiheng Percival Zhang was guilty of one count conspiracy to defraud the United States, three counts of making false statements and one count of obstruction by falsification. The ruling follows a September 2018 bench trial in the U.S. District Court in Roanoke.

“Mr. Zhang used his position of prominence to unlawfully seek money from federal grant programs and will now pay for it,” Danieal P. Bubar, a first assistant United States Attorney said in a press release announcing the ruling.

Zhang had been a biological systems engineering professor at Virginia Tech at the time of the offenses. He founded a research firm in Blacksburg called Cell-Free Bioinnovations Inc. The company relied exclusively on federal grants to fund its research activities.

Zhang began working as a paid researcher for the Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences by at least 2014. In 2015, he caused fraudulent grant proposals to be submitted to the National Science Foundation that would have been used for research Zhang knew had already been done in China.

Zhang planned to use the grant funds for other projects being done by his firm, rather than the projects for which the funds had been requested. Zhang submitted falsified timesheets to government investigators to obstruct the investigation.

A spokesperson for Virginia Tech said the school had no comment on Zhang's case. 

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