By Lorenzo Ferrigno
NEW YORK (CNN) — Three university researchers working on medical technology are facing federal charges — and up to 20 years in prison if convicted — for allegedly taking Chinese money for their U.S.-funded research, according to federal authorities.
Their research was partially funded by a multimillion dollar National Institutes of Health grant, according to a criminal complaint.
The three — Yudong Zhu, 44 of Scarsdale, and Xing Yang and Ye Li, both 31 of Hartsdale — are each charged with one count of commercial bribery, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. Zhu is also charged with one count lying about conflicts of interests in a federal research grant.
The three are Chinese nationals, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office. It was not clear from the statement what their status was while working in the United States.
“Instead of working exclusively for a New York research institution, the defendants took bribes to acquire research for the benefit of both a Chinese competitor and a Chinese government institution,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos said.
The U.S. attorney’s statement described the three as “researchers who worked on improving MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) technology at a university in New York, New York.” Although the statement did not name the university, the website of the New York University School of Medicine identifies Zhu as an associate professor conducting research focused on improving MRI technology.
The criminal complaint said Zhu recruited the other two scientists to aid him in the MRI research.
The defendants had undisclosed ties with a Chinese medical imaging company and a Chinese government-sponsored research institute conducting the same MRI research, according to federal authorities. The scientists allegedly shared private information stemming from their research in the United States with those Chinese institutions.
“As alleged, this is a case of inviting and paying for foxes in the henhouse,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Monday.
The researchers allegedly accepted thousands of dollars for travel, tuition and rent.
Zhu and Yang were arrested at their residences in New York Sunday, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Li is believed to have traveled to China before charges were brought.
Zhu and Yang appeared in court Monday and were both released on bond, according to Zhu’s lawyer, Robert Baum.
“Many of the government’s statements in the bail hearing misinterpreted facts which are actually consistent with his innocence,” Baum told CNN Tuesday.
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