NEW YORK (AP) — Three New York University researchers from China divulged results from a federally funded study to Chinese competitors in exchange for tuition, rent and other expenses, federal prosecutors said Monday.
Yudong Zhu, an NYU professor, and Xing Yang, a lab engineer, were to appear in federal court in Manhattan to face commercial bribery and other charges. The third defendant, postdoctoral fellow Ye Li, was at large.
A criminal complaint alleges the three provided nonpublic information about magnetic resonance imaging to a medical company in China, United Imaging Healthcare, and a research institute supported by the Chinese government.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called the three men "foxes in the hen house" who "deceived the university and others about their professional allegiances to competing Chinese interests."
Authorities described the 44-year-old Zhu as "an accomplished researcher and innovator in the field of MRI technology" who was hired as associate professor of radiology at NYU Langone Medical Center in 2008. In 2010, he received a multimillion-dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health for his MRI research, and later recruited Yang and Li to work for him.
The names of their defense attorneys were not immediately available.
The complaint accuses Zhu of arranging for United Imaging to pay for Yang and Li's expenses, including tuition for Yang and rent for Li. It says all three failed to disclose to NYU that they were still affiliated with both the company and the Shenzen Institute of Advanced Technology.
Earlier this year, NYU launched an internal review that uncovered the conflict of interest, authorities said. Last month, security cameras captured Yang taking photos of equipment in one research area, and emails showed that Zhu and Yang corresponded with United Imaging about "MRI equipment prototypes, experiments and project updates," the complaint said.
When confronted by NYU administrators, Li told them that he was paid thousands of dollars this year by the Chinese institute for work on its MRI project and that Zhu "performs the same work on research for that project as he does for the university," the complaint says.
NYU Langone Medical Center "is deeply disappointed by the news of the alleged conduct by its employees," said its spokesman, Christopher Ruches, adding that the three had been suspended.
The men face up to five years in prison if convicted of the bribery count. Zhu faces up to 20 years on a separate charge of falsifying records in connection with his federal grant.