University of New Hampshire Employee Pleads Guilty to Stealing Government Funds
CONCORD, N.H. Jichun Zhang, 46, of Durham, pleaded guilty today to stealing money from federal research grants, announced United States Attorney Scott W. Murray.
According to court documents and statements made in court, Zhang was a former Research Associate Professor at the University of New Hampshire’s Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space (EOS). Zhang was authorized to use a credit card provided by UNH to pay for expenses covered by federal research grants that were awarded to UNH by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
On 31 separate occasions from January 2016 to December 2017, Zhang used the credit card to purchase items totaling more than $6,900 from Amazon.com, e-Bay, and Apple, Inc., for his personal benefit. For each such transaction, Zhang submitted a fictitious receipt and a fraudulent written justification for the expense to UNH. The bogus documents caused the University System of New Hampshire to make payments on the credit card and obtain reimbursement for the unauthorized expenses from the NASA grants.
Zhang will be sentenced on March 27, 2019.
“The conduct involved in this case is particularly serious because it involved a professional educator who stole money that should have been used to pursue the important scientific goals of the federal grants,” said U.S. Attorney Murray. “I want to thank the University of New Hampshire and the University System of New Hampshire. Their immediate response and sustained cooperation with law enforcement demonstrated a forceful determination to protect the integrity of the federal grant process.”
“I am grateful for the daily due diligence of the University of New Hampshire and University System employees who alerted the police to this criminal activity.” said UNH Police Chief Paul H Dean. “The complex joint investigation was a success due to the strong collaboration of federal and campus law enforcement and I believe it sends a clear message to anyone contemplating similar criminal activity in the research community.”
“Mr. Zhang has now accepted responsibility for misusing taxpayer money that was entrusted to him to pay for expenses covered by federal research grants. Not only did he mishandle those funds for his own personal gain, but he betrayed the trust of his colleagues at the University,” said Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division. “The FBI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to identify others like Mr. Zhang who fraudulently misuse government money for their own self-enrichment.”
“This investigation exposed an individual that used federal funds to advance his own personal gain,” said Curtis W. Vaughn, Special Agent in Charge, of the Office of Investigations of NASA’s Office of Inspector General. “I commend the outstanding efforts of our agents, the University, and other law enforcement agencies involved in protecting the integrity of federal research grants and contracts.”
The case was investigated by the UNH Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Office of Inspector General, with assistance from the Police Departments in Durham, Nottingham, and Newmarket, New Hampshire. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Robert M. Kinsella.