A previously tenured science professor from University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) faced trial Monday for allegedly covering up his research affiliations with China. The professor, Anming Hu, was first indicted last February by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). His trial is a part of the DOJ’s “China Initiative,” an investigative effort by the DOJ’s National Security Division (NSD) to identify and prosecute individuals engaged in trade secret theft, hacking, economic espionage, foreign direct investment threats, and supply chain compromises to benefit the Chinese government.
The trial, United States v. Anming Hu, began Monday at 9 a.m. EST in the Eastern. According to court documents, the hearing is scheduled to continue Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. In addition to facing charges for false statements about his affiliations with the Beijing University of Technology (BJUT), Hu is facing charges of wire fraud.
According to the DOJ press release, Hu was arrested because he didn’t disclose his relationship to BJUT while receiving NASA funding. The press release also noted that UTK cooperated with the investigation.
“This is just the latest case involving professors or researchers concealing their affiliations with China from their American employers and the U.S. government,” stated Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers. “We will not tolerate it.”
If Hu is found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in federal prison with five additional years for each count of false statements and $250,000 for each count of wire fraud.
Hu’s wife, Yi Yang Hu, established a GoFundMe in October to offset the legal expenses. In the fundraiser description, Yi Yang maintained Hu’s innocence. She alleged that Anming was targeted based on racial profiling, and that the charges were thrown at him after two years of failed surveillance by the government to link him to the “Thousand Talents Plan” (TTP) – a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) program to recruit high-level scientists and other experts overseas.
Yi Yang’s account of the events that unfolded is reproduced below:
2020 was a devastating year to all of us. For Anming and I, including our three children especially, the hardships we faced in the past 15 months was just not limited to the pandemic. Anming was arrested on Feb 27, 2020 due to ‘China ties,’ similar to the prominent case that occurred recently at MIT, and a few more others. […]
Anming was a tenured associate professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) who has dreamed to pursue science since growing up in a rural China village. Through overcoming many obstacles and obtaining two PhD’s, he was able to start a career in mechanical engineering and pursue his American dream. But now he has lost everything after he was arrested due to vague laws concerning NASA China restriction and ‘conflicts of interests form.’ He is being accused of hiding his ‘China tie,’ which in fact he reported to UTK in many other ways. He is being accused of ‘grant fraud,’ but in fact the grant was used by UTK for its PhD student’s research project. Not only did he not pursue his personal interest when applying to these NASA funds ($110,000 in total) but he also selflessly contributed his vacation time as the matching fund.
After he was arrested, UTK immediately suspended his position, stopped his payment and further terminated his tenured position while he is still fighting for his innocence. My son had to withdraw from UTK due to financial difficulties. […]
The government started the investigation of Anming under the ‘China Initiative’ for economic espionage and suspected he is a member of the ‘1000 talented project (TTP).’
Anming is not a member of TTP. After almost two years’ surveillance the government found nothing about spying. He is not being charged for economic espionage. He is charged with federal crimes on the basis of failing to disclose his affiliation with a Chinese university (Beijing University of Technology, BJUT) on a university form to UTK, even though he has disclosed this affiliation to UTK through annual reports, inviting visiting students and the published work. As a guest professor in Beijing University of Technology (BJUT) he used his vacation time (less than 2 months in a year) to do the open and collaborative scientific work. His faculty position with UTK is based on 9 months term. He does not have a conflict of interest according to UTK’s faculty policies. As said by his attorney, Mr. Phil Lomonaco, ‘Dr. Hu is not a Chinese spy, he is innocent and he did not intend to defraud anyone.’
Anming’s case is one of the many unjust cases under the ‘China Initiative,’ which in practice has heavily scrutinized, harmed, and created enormous fear for scientists, researchers, and scholars of Chinese and Asian descent across the country. The ‘China Initiative’ allegedly aims to combat economic espionage, but in reality has singled out scientists and researchers of Asian and Chinese descent based on the misguided perception that their ethnicity, race, or ancestry make them prone to espionage, leading to racial profiling. […] (original emphasis included)
The GoFundMe has raised just under $37,000 of its $200,000 goal. The donor list is mostly anonymous – nearly all of the names that are listed are Asian.
Hu’s motion to dismiss the charges in January was denied by U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan.
That ruling is included below:
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