Gang Chen, 56, a Chinese-born mechanical engineer and nanotechnologist, was charged by federal prosecutors with defrauding the U.S. Department of Energy when seeking grants, hiding his working relationship with the Chinese government, and failing to disclose a foreign bank account on a tax return. Chen is a naturalized U.S. citizen and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Robert Fisher, the attorney for Chen said that his client “loves the United States and looks forward to vigorously defending these allegations.”

“Since Gang moved to this country over 30 years ago, his life has been the epitome of the American dream. He has dedicated his life to scientific advancement in mechanical engineering,” Fisher said in an email.

Joseph Bonavolonta, the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the FBI office in Boston said at a news conference that, “Our investigation found Chen was working with the Chinese communist government in various capacities dating back to 2012 at our country’s expense.”

“In applying for these scarce federal grants, we alleged Chen failed to disclose that he was acting as an overseas expert on science and technology for the Chinese communist government after China’s consulate office in New York asked him to provide expertise and advice in exchange for financial compensation and awards,” Bonavolonta added.

Bonavolonta stated that Chen defrauded U.S. taxpayers out of at least $19 million. He added that about half of the FBI’s  5,000 active counter-intelligence investigations involve China.

Federal prosecutors said that Chen had received money from several Chinese sources. He had also helped to review and assess grant applications for the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NNSFC), which operates similarly to U.S. grant-funding agencies.

But Chen never disclosed his work for the NNSFC or other Chinese affiliations when he applied for and was granted millions in Department of Energy grants.

MIT released a statement saying that Chen’s arrest was “deeply distressing.” 

“MIT believes the integrity of research is a fundamental responsibility, and we take seriously concerns about improper influence in U.S. research. Prof. Chen is a long-serving and highly respected member of the research community, which makes the government’s allegations against him all the more distressing. We are not able to offer any further information related to the government’s complaint at this time,” Kimberly Allen, MIT’s spokeswoman said.

Last year, another Boston-based scientist, Harvard chemistry professor Charles Lieber, was charged by federal investigators with lying about his ties to China. He was also involved in nanotechnology. It isn’t believed that he and Chen were connected.

The Chinese government has made great technological advancements in recent years. Nevertheless, it is still far behind is nanotechnology, among other areas.

The FBI and DoJ believe that the Chinese have saved years of research and millions of dollars by conducting espionage and intellectual property theft. 

However, a group called the Asian Americans Advancing Justice sent a letter to President-elect Joe Biden urging him to end the FBI/DoJ’s so-called “China Initiative.” The group said that the initiative has “greatly increased the targeting and profiling of Asian Americans and immigrants, particularly those of Chinese descent who are working in science and technology.”