KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A University of Kansas associate professor has been indicted by federal prosecutors for failing to disclose a conflict of interest with China.
As a condition of his full-time employment as a researcher for KU’s Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis, Feng “Franklin” Tao was required to disclose any conflicts of interest relating to his employment.
In May 2018, Tao signed a five-year contract with China-based Fuzhou University to be a full-time “Changjiang Scholar Distinguished Professor.”
Court documents released Wednesday allege that not only did Tao fail to inform the university’s Board of Regents of his work for Fuzhou University, he signed a declaration that he didn’t have any conflicts of interest.
University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas A. Girod said that following the indictment, Tao has been placed on paid administrative leave.
"We take these allegations very seriously," Girod said in a statement Wednesday. "We learned of this potential criminal activity this spring, and we reported it to authorities and have cooperated with the ongoing investigation."
Girod said that he could not speak further due to the matter involving personnel.
Under the indictment, Tao faces one count of wire fraud and three counts of program fraud. Prosecutors allege Tao fraudulently received $37,000 in salary as part of his KU research.
If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 for wire fraud. Each program fraud charge carries a sentence of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of $250,000.
“Tao is alleged to have defrauded the US government by unlawfully receiving federal grant money at the same time that he was employed and paid by a Chinese research university—a fact that he hid from his university and federal agencies,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers for National Security said in a release Wednesday. “Any potential conflicts of commitment by a researcher must be disclosed as required by law and university policies. The Department will continue to pursue any unlawful failure to do so.”