Chinese national who defrauded taxpayer grants, spied on medical research nabbed by ICE

When Chinese national Song Guo Zheng stepped out of the Federal Correctional Institution Elkton in Lisbon, Ohio, in January, fresh off a 37-month sentence for hiding his ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and lying “on applications in order to use approximately $4.1 million in grants from NIH [National Institute of Health] to develop China’s expertise in the areas of rheumatology and immunology,” he didn’t get far.

As Zheng spent the final days of 2022 sitting in a cell, an immigration court ordered his removal.

So, when Zheng drew a fresh breath of freedom on January 6, 2023, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) agents reportedly slapped the cuffs back on the spy and started the process that would lead to his removal, according to an ICE press release on Friday.

According to a May 2021 statement from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Zheng was arrested Friday, May 22, 2020, while attempting to flee the country.

The Ohio State University rheumatology professor and researcher was picked up “after he arrived in Anchorage, Alaska, aboard a charter flight and as he prepared to board another charter flight in order to flee to China.”

“He was carrying three large bags, one small suitcase and a briefcase containing two laptops, three cell phones, several USB drives, several silver bars, expired Chinese passports for his family, deeds for property in China and other items,” the DOJ said at the time.

Zheng pled guilty to defrauding the grants and attempting to aid China with the information he gleaned from his time in the States.

And he had access to a lot of information.

“Song Guo Zheng was a professor of internal medicine at The Ohio State University and Pennsylvania State University, where he led a team conducting autoimmune research,” according to the Center for Development of Security Excellence (CDSE).

“As part of his work,” the CDSE adds, “Zheng had access to classified material related to his research for NIH.”

He was also a participant in China’s “Thousand Talents program,” the DOJ stated.

The China-sponsored talent plans “incentivize its members to steal foreign technologies needed to advance China’s national, military, and economic goals,” according to the FBI.

They “usually involve undisclosed and illegal transfers of information, technology, or intellectual property that are one-way and detrimental to U.S. institutions.”

“We hope Zheng’s prison sentence deters others from having anything to do with China’s so-called ‘1000 Talents Plan’ or any of its variations,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Vipal J. Patel for the Southern District of Ohio at the time of Zheng’s original sentencing. “Stealing is stealing but stealing at the behest of a foreign government’s concerted effort to pilfer our nation’s innovations and technology takes things to a new and significantly worse level.”

“Officials flew Song Guo Zheng, 60, from Detroit International Airport to Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China, Feb. 17, 2023, where they turned him over to local authorities,” ICE reported.

He isn’t likely to face any additional punishment in China, thanks to his tight CCP ties.

“Zheng’s actions sought to rob taxpayers for the benefit of a foreign government,” ERO Detroit acting Field Office Director Matthew Putra said in a statement. “Our officers’ commitment to public safety includes foreign nationals who present national security risks and seek to defraud the American people.”


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