Federal Charges Against Stanford University Researcher Expanded
Grand Jury Adds Obstruction, Alteration of Records, and False Statements to Visa Fraud Charges Against Visiting Researcher Alleged to Be Member of China’s People’s Liberation Army
A federal grand jury issued a superseding indictment charging Chen Song with visa fraud, obstruction of justice, destruction of documents, and false statements in connection with a scheme to conceal and lie about her status as a member of the People’s Republic of China’s military forces while in the United States, the Justice Department announced yesterday.
“We allege that while Chen Song worked as a researcher at Stanford University, she was secretly a member of China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army,” said U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson for the Northern District of California. “When Song feared discovery, she destroyed documents in a failed attempt to conceal her true identity. This prosecution will help to protect elite institutions like Stanford from illicit foreign influences.”
"Members of the Chinese People's Liberation Army cannot lie on their visa applications and come to the United States to study without expecting the FBI and our partners to catch them." said Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division. "Time and again, the Chinese government prioritizes stealing U.S. research and taking advantage of our universities over obeying international norms."
“The FBI’s investigation revealed Song Chen took active steps to destroy evidence of her official affiliation with the Chinese military, including her current PLA credentials depicting her in military dress uniform,” said Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair of the FBI's San Francisco Field Office. “The FBI is committed to protecting academic institutions in the Bay Area from PRC military officers who knowingly and willfully lie about their military affiliations to access American research and development. We will exhaust all investigative techniques and measures to ensure the safety, security, and hard work of American universities.”
The superseding indictment expands on the allegations set out in an affidavit supporting a criminal complaint filed on July 17, 2020, and an indictment filed on Jan. 7, 2021. According to the superseding indictment, Song, 39, a Chinese national, entered the United States on Dec. 23, 2018, using a J-1 non-immigrant visa to conduct research at Stanford University. Song obtained the J-1 visa, a document “for individuals approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs” with an application she submitted in November 2018.
In that application, Song described herself as a neurologist who was coming to the United States to conduct research at Stanford University related to brain disease. As part of the application, Song stated that she had served in the Chinese military only from Sept. 1, 2000, through June 30, 2011. She further stated that her employer was “Xi Diaoyutai Hospital” located at “No. 30 Fucheng Road, Beijing, 100142,” and that her highest rank was “STUDENT.” The superseding indictment alleges that these were lies, and that Song was a member of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the Chinese military, when she entered and while she was in the United States, and that the hospital she listed on her visa as her employer was a cover for her true employer, the PLA Air Force General Hospital in Beijing.
The superseding indictment also adds allegations and charges of obstructive conduct by Song. Specifically, the superseding indictment alleges that Song found out about a case against another PLA member, who was charged on June 7, 2020, in the Northern District of California with visa fraud. The superseding indictment alleges that she then attempted to delete a digital folder of documents on an external hard drive that she possessed containing records relating to her military service and visa fraud, including:
- A digital version of a letter from Song, written in Chinese and addressed to the People’s Republic of China consulate in New York, in which Song explained that her stated employer, “Beijing Xi Diaoyutai Hospital” was a false front, and that because relevant approval documents were classified, she had attempted to mail them;
- An image of Song’s PLA credentials, with a photograph of her in military dress uniform, covering the time period from July 2016 to July 2020; and
- A digital version of a resume for Song, written in Chinese, again with a photograph of her in military dress uniform and listing her employer as the Air Force General Hospital.
Further, according to the superseding indictment, Song lied to FBI agents when interviewed, denying any affiliation with the PLA after 2011, and information associating Song with the PLA or Air Force General Hospital began to disappear from the Internet after the FBI’s investigation of Song was known to her. Finally, the superseding indictment alleges that, after Song had been charged by criminal complaint in this case, she selectively deleted relevant emails from that account, including certain emails relevant to her military service, employment, and affiliations.
Song is charged with visa fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1546(a); obstruction of official proceedings, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2); two counts of alteration, destruction, mutilation, or concealment of records, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(1); and making false statements to a government agency, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2).
An indictment merely alleges that a crime has been committed and Song, like all defendants, is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
If convicted, she faces a maximum statutory penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for the visa fraud count; up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for each of the obstruction and alteration charges; and up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for the false statements charge. In addition, the court may order additional terms of supervised release. However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
Song’s next appearance is scheduled for April 7, 2021, at 12:00 p.m. PST, before the Honorable William Alsup, U.S. District Judge, for pretrial conference, with a trial scheduled to begin on April 12, 2021.
The FBI San Francisco Field Office led the investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office Special Prosecutions Section is prosecuting the case.