Jurors deliberate over whether professor hid ties to China

Jun 15, 2021, 11:12 AM | Updated: 1:56 pm

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jurors have begun weighing the fate of a University of Tennessee professor charged with hiding his relationship with a Chinese university while receiving research grants from the federal government.

Anming Hu, an associate professor in the department of mechanical, aerospace and biomedical engineering at the university’s flagship Knoxville campus, was charged in February 2020 with three counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements.

Defense lawyer Philip Lomonaco has argued that the Department of Justice “wanted a feather in its cap with an economic espionage case, so they ignored the facts and the law, destroyed the career of a professor with three Ph.D.s in nanotechnology and now expects the court to follow their narrative.”

Testimony in the federal trial wrapped up Monday and lawyers gave their closing statements, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported. Jurors deliberated for five hours without reaching a verdict Monday. They are supposed to return Wednesday to deliberate further.

The charges are part of a broader Justice Department crackdown against university researchers who conceal their ties to Chinese institutions, with a Harvard chemistry professor arrested in the past on similar charges. Federal officials have also asserted that Beijing is intent on stealing intellectual property from America’s colleges and universities, and have actively been warning schools to be on alert against espionage attempts.

Prosecutors say Hu defrauded the National Aeronautics and Space Administration by failing to disclose the fact that he was also a professor at the Beijing University of Technology in China. Under federal law, NASA cannot fund or give grant money to Chinese-owned companies or universities.

“He intentionally hid his ties to China to further his career,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Casey Arrowood told jurors on Monday. “This case, ladies and gentlemen, is just that simple.”

Testimony has shown university officials told faculty that the NASA restriction didn’t apply to them.

Lomonaco said Hu didn’t think he needed to list his part-time summer job on a disclosure form and no one at UT ever told him otherwise. Hu’s affiliation with the Beijing University of Technology was clearly listed in other documents, Lomonaco said. He also noted that it was NASA that sought Hu’s technology.

“They wanted him to work on this project,” Lomonaco said. “(A NASA contractor) sought him out because he was so qualified. (Hu) wasn’t trying to trick NASA.”

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Jurors deliberate over whether professor hid ties to China