KU professor could face decades in federal prison for wire, program fraud

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (KSNT) – An associate professor at the University of Kansas could face decades in prison for wire fraud and program fraud.

Feng “Franklin” Tao, 47, Lawrence, Kansas was indicted Wednesday on federal charges of hiding the fact that he was working for a Chinese university while doing research at KU that was funded by the U.S. government.

Tao is an associate professor at KU’s Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis (CEBC) and is charged with one count of wire fraud and three counts of program fraud.

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers for National Security. “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.”

The issue comes from 2018 when Tao signed a contract with Fuzhou University in China, making him a professor, and full-time employee at the school.

While he was under contract, he was also doing research at KU that was funded through two U.S. Department of Energy contracts and four National Science Foundation contracts.

Kansas Board of Regents’ policy requires staff to file an annual conflict of interest report, in which, Tao claimed to have no conflicts of interest. The indictment alleges that he fraudulently received over $37,000 in salary from the research he did at KU.

If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 on the wire fraud count and up to 10 years and a fine up to $250,000 on each of the program fraud counts.

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