A former Cleveland Clinic researcher who received more than $3.6 million in National Institutes of Health grants is facing criminal charges for failing to disclose his ties to Chinese universities and his connections to a Chinese government program described as a conduit for theft of U.S. intellectual property.
The FBI and officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services inspector general’s office arrested Dr. Qing Wang on Wednesday at his Shaker Heights home. Prosecutors say Wang appeared Thursday before Magistrate Judge Jonathan D. Greenberg, who released him on $100,000 bond and required him to surrender his passports and restrict his travel to northern Ohio.
A criminal complaint released to reporters on Thursday says Wang faces charges of false claims and wire fraud. An attorney for Wang said he asserts his innocence.
“Dr. Wang is a citizen of the United States,” said a statement from Wang’s lawyer, Brandon J. Henderson. “As we all know, being presumed innocent is a legal right enjoyed by our citizens. The burden of proving his guilt, beyond a reasonable doubt, rests entirely with the Government. We respectfully request that Dr. Wang and his family be treated with this respect throughout this process.”
The complaint says Wang “knowingly failed” to tell NIH he held the position of Dean of the College of Life Sciences and Technology at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology and that he received grant money from the National Natural Science Foundation of China for some of the same scientific research funded by the NIH grant. It says NIH approved its grants for Wang’s Cleveland Clinic research based on his “false representations and promises.”
Investigators also allege that Wang participated in the Thousand Talents Program, which the Chinese government established to recruit people with access to or knowledge of foreign technology and intellectual property. China provided Wang with $3 million in research support for his lab in China. It also gave him free travel and lodging for his trips to China, including a three-bedroom apartment campus for his personal use, authorities said. This occurred while Wang was received NIH grant money without disclosing his ties to China.
“Dr. Wang failed to disclose to NIH and/or the Cleveland Clinic that he was under an obligation with the Chinese government to share his U.S.-funded research with entities located in China in any of his annual disclosure requirements,” the complaint says.
The complaint says Wang was born in the People’s Republic of China, accepted a Cleveland Clinic research position in 1997, and became a U.S. citizen in 2005. It says he’s a professor of Molecular Medicine at Case Western Reserve University, and also holds a professorship at the Lerner Research Institute.
It also says Wang failed to tell both NIH and Cleveland Clinic that he is married to Dr. Quiyun Chen, a member of his research team who was listed as a co-investigator, which violated the clinic’s conflict of interest policies and NIH standards of conduct.
A statement from FBI Cleveland Special Agent in Charge Eric B. Smith said Wang “engaged in a pervasive pattern of fraud,” deliberately failing to disclose his Chinese grants and foreign positions.
“As this case demonstrates, Chinese government-supported talent plans continue to encourage people, regardless of nationality, to commit crimes, such as fraud to obtain U.S. taxpayer-funded research,” Acting Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division Robert R. Wells said in a statement. “The FBI and our partners will continue to rigorously investigate these illegal activities to protect our government, educational and research institutions.”
Cleveland Clinic released a statement saying that the NIH expressed concerns about whether Wang appropriately disclosed his foreign research ties to China and terminated his employment after conducting an internal review.
“Cleveland Clinic has cooperated fully with the NIH and with federal law enforcement as they conducted their own investigations into these same subjects and will continue to do so,” the statement said. “Cleveland Clinic takes seriously its obligations to be a good steward of the federal research funds entrusted to us. Cleveland Clinic appreciates the commitment by the NIH and federal law enforcement to the integrity and security of research being conducted by the academic community across the country.”
A statement from U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman of the Northern District of Ohio said federal law enforcement “remains vigilant to fraudulent claims for grant support from any researcher who fails to disclose support from foreign governments and competing research interests in other countries.”
A report released last year by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Ohio GOP Sen. Rob Portman, concluded that China is recruiting U.S. scientists and researchers and encouraging them to transfer U.S. taxpayer-funded intellectual property to China.
Portman’s report said the “Thousand Talents Plan” that Wang participated in encourages researchers in the United States to transmit their knowledge to China in exchange for incentives that include money, research funding and lab space, and the country “unfairly uses the American research and expertise it obtains for its own economic and military gain.”
A statement form Portman said he was pleased that his committee’s investigation has “spurred additional action by federal law enforcement to hold China accountable.
“For too long, China has exploited the lack of transparency in our education system to steal our taxpayer-funded research and innovation and the federal government has done little or nothing to stop it,” his statement continued.
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