Portman Statement on Former Ohio State Professor and Chinese “Thousand Talents” Member Sentencing for Grant Fraud

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, issued the following statement after Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Vipal J. Patel, and FBI Cincinnati Special Agent in Charge Chris Hoffman announced that Song Guo Zheng, a former Ohio State professor, was sentenced to 37 months in prison to making false statements to federal authorities related to his affiliation with China’s Thousand Talents Program while receiving taxpayer-funded grants. Zheng was also ordered to pay $3.4 million in restitution to the National Institutes of Health and $413,000 to The Ohio State University. Zheng was arrested in May 2020 in Anchorage, Alaska boarding a chartered flight to China. 

Portman and Senator Tom Carper, as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), led a year-long investigation into China’s talent recruitment programs like the Thousand Talents Program, culminating in a bipartisan report and hearing in 2019 that detailed how American taxpayers have been unwittingly funding the rise of China’s military and economy over the last two decades while federal agencies have done little to stop it. Starting in the late 1990s through its “talent recruitment programs,” China began recruiting U.S.-based scientists and researchers to transfer U.S. taxpayer-funded IP for China’s military and economic gain. Portman’s bipartisan Safeguarding American Innovation Act to stop theft of U.S. taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property by global competitors passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee earlier this week.

“I’m pleased that our bipartisan Subcommittee investigation in 2019 spurred action by federal law enforcement to hold China and its Thousand Talents Program members accountable and ensure that justice is served. I commend Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Vipal J. Patel, and the FBI for their work to help protect taxpayer-funded academic innovation and research from theft by foreign governments like China. This case highlights how the U.S. and our academic institutions, including our own The Ohio State University, are high-value targets for China’s talent recruitment efforts given our innovative taxpayer-funded research. We cannot let the American taxpayer continue to fund the rise of our global competitors to the detriment of hard-working Americans. Dr. Zheng is a clear example of China’s continued attempts to steal our taxpayer-funded research. This harms our important academic institutions, federal grant-making agencies, and American businesses.

“I am encouraged by The Ohio State University’s cooperation with the DOJ and the FBI to protect against exploitation of our research enterprise. This case shows that it’s time to pass my Safeguarding American Innovation Act to help stop foreign governments from stealing our research and innovation so that American taxpayer-funded research will be used to level the playing to create jobs for hard-working Americans. China’s ongoing theft of America’s research and innovation must stop.”