FAYETTEVILLE — Simon Ang, a former Fayetteville professor at the University of Arkansas, pleaded guilty on Friday to one count of misrepresentation as prosecutors agreed to drop wire fraud charges related to his ties with China.
The agreement states that “a sentence of one day and one year incarceration is the appropriate sentence in this case”, as well as a fine of $5,500.
In recent years, federal prosecutors have filed criminal charges against some US researchers in an effort known as the US Justice Department’s China Initiative.
Some, like Ang, have been accused of failing to properly disclose ties to China. A few faced charges of economic espionage, but no such charges were filed against Ang.
Ang faced 55 counts of wire fraud after prosecutors said he failed to disclose to government funding agencies — and UA — his ties to China and Chinese companies. Most of the charges related to Ang’s pursuit of NASA and US Air Force research grants.
The misrepresentation arose when an FBI agent asked Ang if he would be listed as an inventor on Chinese patents, the plea agreement says.
“Ang said the following: ‘Yes, I’m not the inventor, I don’t even know what it is,'” according to the plea agreement.
The plea agreement states that “Ang’s name or Chinese birth name” appears on 24 Chinese patents as a co-inventor.
Ang, 64, was born in Malaysia and has been a US citizen since 1986, his lawyer Drew Ledbetter said.
At the time of his arrest in May 2020, Ang ran UA’s High Density Electronics Center, or HiDEC. He was released on $200,000 bond under house arrest on May 29, 2020.
The university suspended Ang without pay after his arrest, then fired him less than two months later. Ang had been a member of the UA faculty since 1988.
On Friday, Ang appeared in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville to plead guilty, according to court documents.
The court filing says that if the court accepts the plea deal, “the government will take steps to dismiss the remaining charges” against Ang.
A US Department of Justice announcement regarding the guilty plea said Ang’s sentencing is expected in about four months. If the court does not accept the settlement, its terms state that “the defendant will have the opportunity to withdraw from the plea”.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys, ahead of a trial scheduled for February, had filed separate motions about what evidence might be appropriate to consider.
Ang, in court papers, had argued that although he participated in what is called a Chinese talent program, testimony about Chinese government talent programs should be excluded from the trial.
FBI Director Christopher Wray at a 2020 conference described the Chinese talent programs as a government effort “to entice scientists to secretly bring our knowledge and innovations back to China.”
Court documents filed by prosecutors referred to Ang’s participation in a talent program run by China, also known as the People’s Republic of China or PRC.
The plea agreement, filed in the U.S. District Court in Fayetteville, states, “Ang did not list his PRC talent awards on the University of Arkansas’ annual conflict of interest disclosure forms. He also did not disclose his Chinese patents to the University of Arkansas.
Acting U.S. Attorney David Clay Fowlkes and Ledbetter signed the agreement, as did Ang.
Through a spokesperson, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Arkansas declined to comment further on Friday.
The plea agreement states that Ang “has held several positions in companies in the People’s Republic of China”, listing three by name.
“Ang’s involvement included leadership roles in businesses,” the plea agreement reads.
Ledbetter, in an email Friday, said a family business led to Ang being listed as a “co-inventor” on Chinese patents.
“Dr. Ang’s brother had a small LED light bulb business based in Singapore. Dr. Ang took an unpaid position as CTO to help his brother’s business,” Ledbetter said.
“The patents were related to this company,” Ledbetter said. “Dr. Ang has not materially enriched himself in any way.”
Previously filed court documents referred to the Justice Department’s China Initiative, which has its critics. Hundreds of scholars have signed letters asking US Attorney General Merrick Garland to end the effort.
Prosecutors in the Ang case said in a footnote to a motion filed earlier this month that “the China Initiative reflects the strategic priority of countering national security threats posed by the People’s Republic of China”.
In a separate case, federal prosecutors on Thursday dropped criminal charges against MIT professor Gang Chen. The Associated Press reported that Chen had been accused of concealing ties to the Chinese government.
Briefed on the outcome of the Chen case, Ledbetter referred to the China Initiative.
“I think the US government is beginning to realize that the China Initiative is a misguided strategy that has strayed from its original goals. Scaring off researchers is counterproductive and will ultimately only suppress collaborative research in academic institutions” , said Ledbetter.
Asked about Ang’s future beyond the final outcome of the criminal prosecution, Ledbetter said, “Dr. Ang plans to retire and spend his time focusing on his family.”
In addition to charges related to Ang’s search for U.S. research grants, other counts of wire fraud related to a limited liability company that Ang allegedly set up as well as college salary payments made to him, according to the indictment against him.
He was also charged with two counts of misrepresentation in applying for and using a passport, as well as another count of misrepresentation, for 59 counts against him in all. .
While Ledbetter said Ang did not violate AU policies, Mark Rushing, a university spokesperson, said in an email Friday that before Ang’s dismissal “l “University had concluded that Dr. Ang had violated several university policies”.
“The plea agreement confirms that Dr. Ang had a role in several outside entities (including several business ventures), which were never disclosed in accordance with the University’s long-standing conflict of interest policies. , commitment disputes and outside employment,” Rushing said, adding that UA found Ang “inappropriately using University facilities to advance private business interests.”
Rushing also said that “as confirmed by today’s plea agreement, he failed to comply with the University’s policies governing intellectual property.”