Yiheng Percival Zhang, a former Virginia Tech biological systems engineering professor, was found guilty of conspiring to commit federal grant fraud, making false statements and obstruction on Feb. 26, 2019.
The official charges against Zhang after his 2017 indictment were, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Virginia, “one count of conspiring to defraud the United States, three counts of making false statements within the jurisdiction of the United States, and three count of making false claims to the United States.”
In November of 2017, Zhang was indicted for several felony charges due to his mismanagement and misuse of federal funding for his Blacksburg biotech business, Cell-Free Bioinnovations Inc. (CFB). Due to the financial potential of his research, the once lauded professor received funding from the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer grant programs of the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy.
The situation reached its crucial point when an FBI special agent accused Zhang and CFB’s chief technology officer and principal investigator, Zhiguang Zhu, of breaching the grant funding regulations. The regulations require grant recipients to abide by the agreed upon purpose of the project, allocate shared funds with the institutions they are partnered with and be responsible for accurate budgeting.
The charges resulted in Zhang’s resignation from his position as a professor and faculty member at Virginia Tech.
Zhang’s judicial proceedings were held in Roanoke federal court, presiding over by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Urbanski. The ex-professor received a bench trial, where instead of a jury, a judge is solely responsible in determining the findings of the case.
The managing assistant U.S. attorney, Randy Ramseyer, was responsible for leading the prosecution of Zhang for the many charges brought against him, including conspiracy to defraud the government.
Zhang and his attorney, Peter Zeidenberg, adamantly deny the charges brought against him and maintain his innocence.
The decision took Justice Urbanski a predetermined seven-week period to conclude. According to The Roanoke Times, Urbanski remarked to lawyers about the delayed judgement, “I need to deliberate with myself.”
A sentencing date has not been released yet.