Senior NASA Scientist Pleads Guilty To Making False Statements Related To Chinese Thousand Talents Program Participation And Professorship
Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York (“USAO”), William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and Mark J. Zielinski, Special Agent in Charge of the Eastern Field Office, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Office of Inspector General (“NASA OIG”), announced that MEYYA MEYYAPPAN, a senior NASA scientist, pled guilty today to making false statements to the FBI, NASA OIG, and the USAO. MEYYAPPAN pled guilty in Manhattan federal court before U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel.
Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “Meyya Meyyappan held a trusted position at NASA, with access to valuable intellectual property. In violation of the terms of his employment and relevant laws and regulations, Meyyappan failed to disclose participation in a Chinese government recruitment program, and subsequently lied about it to NASA investigators, FBI agents, and our Office. Now, having admitted his crime, Meyyappan awaits sentencing.”
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said: “Members of U.S. government agencies are strictly prohibited from maintaining undisclosed affiliations with foreign entities, especially those that are actively seeking our intellectual property and technological advances. Meyyappan violated this sacred rule, and then lied to FBI agents about it. Actions like those carried about by Meyyappan can have security implications, and his charges should serve as a warning to others thinking about engaging in the same type of activity.”
NASA OIG Special Agent in Charge Mark J. Zielinski said: “Certain NASA employees are required to disclose affiliations with foreign entities in order to protect NASA’s intellectual property. Failure to do so could allow malicious foreign actors unauthorized access to American taxpayer funded technologies. We thank the FBI and the USAO, SDNY for their assistance throughout this investigation.”
According to the allegations in the Information filed today in Manhattan federal court and other proceedings in this case:
Since in or about 1996, MEYYAPPAN, the defendant, has been employed by NASA, an independent U.S. government agency responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. Since in or about 2006, MEYYAPPAN has been Chief Scientist, Exploration Technology at the Center for Nanotechnology, at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in Silicon Valley, California.
In his position at NASA, MEYYAPPAN was subject to certain statutory, regulatory, and agency restrictions and reporting requirements regarding, among other things, outside employment, travel, and compensation. Notwithstanding these prohibitions, MEYYAPPAN participated in China’s Thousand Talents Program, a program established by the Chinese government to recruit individuals with access to or knowledge of foreign technology or intellectual property, and held professorships at universities in China, South Korea, and Japan, and failed to disclose these associations and positions to NASA and the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.
On or about October 27, 2020, MEYYAPPAN was interviewed by the FBI, NASA OIG, and the USAO, in New York, New York. During that interview, MEYYAPPAN falsely stated, among other things, that he was not a member of the Thousand Talents Program and that he did not hold a professorship at a Chinese university. In truth and in fact, MEYYAPPAN was a member of the Thousand Talents Program and held a professorship at a Chinese university, funded by the Chinese government.
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MEYYAPPAN, 66, of Pacifica, California was charged with one count of making false statements, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge. MEYYAPPAN is scheduled to be sentenced before Judge Castel on June 16, 2021, at 2:00 p.m.
Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding work of the FBI and NASA OIG.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force. Assistant United States Attorney Joshua A. Naftalis is in charge of the prosecution.