BOSTON – The former Chair of Harvard University’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department was sentenced today in federal court in Boston for lying to federal authorities about his affiliation with People’s Republic of China’s Thousand Talents Program and the Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in Wuhan, China, as well as failing to report income he received from WUT.
Dr. Charles Lieber, 64, was sentenced by U.S. Senior District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel to time served (two days) in prison; two years of supervised release with six months of home confinement; a fine of $50,000; and $33,600 in restitution to the IRS. The government recommended a sentence of 90 days in prison and a $150,000 fine.
In December 2021, Lieber was convicted by a federal jury of two counts of making false statements to federal authorities, two counts of making and subscribing a false income tax return, and two counts of failing to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts (FBAR) with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Lieber served as the Principal Investigator of the Lieber Research Group at Harvard University, which between 2008 and 2019 conducted more than $15 million in research sponsored by various U.S. Government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Defense (“DOD”) and the National Institutes of Health (“NIH”). Unbeknownst to his employer, Harvard University, Lieber became a “Strategic Scientist” at WUT and, later, a contractual participant in China’s Thousand Talents Plan from at least 2012 through 2015. China’s Thousand Talents Plan was one of the most prominent Chinese talent recruitment plans designed to attract, recruit and cultivate high-level scientific talent in furtherance of China’s scientific development, economic prosperity and national security.
In April 2018, during an interview with federal agents from DOD (one of the agencies that sponsored a portion of Lieber’s research), among other things, Lieber falsely stated that he had never been asked to participate in the Thousand Talents Plan. Later, in January 2019, Lieber caused Harvard to falsely tell the NIH (another sponsor of Lieber’s research) that Lieber was not, and had never been, a participant in the Thousand Talents Plan. Lieber knew these statements were false because he had signed a Thousand Talents contract with WUT in 2012, performed many of the duties and responsibilities required of him under that contract, and been paid a substantial salary by WUT in exchange for his work. Specifically, the terms of Lieber’s three-year Thousand Talents contract with WUT entitled Lieber to a salary of up to $50,000 per month, living expenses of up to $150,000 and approximately n $1.5 million to conduct joint research at WUT.
In tax years 2013 and 2014, Lieber earned income from WUT in the form of salary and other payments made to him pursuant to his Thousand Talents contract, which he did not disclose to the IRS on his federal income tax returns. Together with WUT officials, Lieber also opened a bank account at a Chinese bank during a trip to Wuhan in 2012. Thereafter, between at least 2012 and 2015, WUT periodically deposited portions of Lieber’s salary into that account. U.S. taxpayers are required to report the existence of any foreign bank account that holds more than $10,000 at any time during a given year by the filing an FBAR with the IRS. According to Lieber, the balance of his Chinese bank account was approximately $200,000 in 2014 and 2015. Nonetheless, Lieber purposely failed to file FBARs for those years.
United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins; Matthew Olsen, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division; Patrick J. Hegarty, Special Agent in Charge of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Northeast Field Office; Joleen D. Simpson, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Division for the Boston Field Office; Michael Wiest, Special Agent in Charge of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), Northeast Field Office; and Philip M. Coyne, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason A. Casey of Rollins’ National Security Unit and Assistant U.S. Attorney James R. Drabick of Rollins’ Securities, Financial & Cyber Fraud Unit prosecuted the case.