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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Massachusetts

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, December 3, 2020

Chinese Researcher Pleads Guilty to Making False Statements to Federal Agents

BOSTON – A Chinese national pleaded guilty today in federal court in Boston to making false statements in connection with his theft of 21 vials of biological research.

Zaosong Zheng, 31, pleaded guilty to one count of making false, fictitious or fraudulent statements. U.S. District Court Judge Denise J. Casper scheduled sentencing for January 6, 2021. According to the terms of the plea agreement, Zheng has agreed to a judicial order of removal from the United States after his sentencing hearing. Zheng was arrested on Dec. 10, 2019, at Boston’s Logan International Airport and charged by criminal complaint.

In August 2018, Zheng entered the United States on a J-1 visa and conducted cancer-cell research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston from Sept. 4, 2018, to Dec. 9, 2019. On Dec. 9, 2019, Zheng stole 21 vials of biological research, hid them in his luggage, and attempted to take them out of the United States aboard a flight destined for China. Federal officers at Logan Airport discovered the vials hidden in a sock inside one of Zheng’s bags, and not properly packaged. When asked by federal officers whether he was traveling with any biological items or research, Zheng lied and answered “no.” Zheng later admitted he had stolen the vials from a lab at Beth Israel. Zheng stated that he intended to bring the vials to China to use them to conduct research in his own laboratory and publish the results under his own name.

The charge of making false, fictitious and fraudulent statements provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division; Michael Denning, Director of Field Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Boston Field Office; and William Higgins, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Export Enforcement, Boston Field Office made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Benjamin Tolkoff and Jason Casey of Lelling’s National Security Unit are prosecuting the case.

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National Security
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Updated December 3, 2020