University of Kansas (KU) chemical engineering professor Feng “Franklin” Tao was convicted by a US federal jury Thursday for concealing ties to China while he was doing research funded by the US government at KU. Tao was found guilty on three counts of wire fraud and one count of false statements after he concealed that he was also employed by a government-affiliated university in the People’s Republic of China.
The Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR) required faculty to annually file reports to notify of any outside employment that could potentially impact duties due to a conflict of interest. Tao began working for KU in 2014, but in 2018, he accepted a position with Fuzhou University in China that required him to be a full-time employee. Tao did not seek permission from KU before accepting the position with Fuzhou University, nor did he notify KU about the employment. In 2018, Tao moved to China to work full-time at Fuzhou University but told KU administrators that he was in Europe.
While working at KU, Tao conducted research under contracts from KU and two US government agencies, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). During that time, Tao caused KU to submit reimbursement requests to those agencies for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Tao repeatedly signed electronic documents stating that he read and understood both the federal government and KU’s policies and that he had made all necessary disclosures.
In 2019, Tao was arrested, just months after the Department of Justice launched the Trump-era “China Initiative” under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. This initiative was meant to crack down on trade secret theft and economic espionage. The program was discontinued in February.
Tao faces up to 30 years in federal prison and fines up to $500,000 for the wire fraud and program fraud counts. His lawyer, Peter Zeidenberg, said in a statement that he will challenge the verdict post-trial.