Yet another prosecution alleging that an academic failed to report ties to China illustrates the government’s multi-agency focus on this issue and the costs and pressures imposed on U.S. universities.

A Texas A&M engineering professor and NASA researcher was arrested and charged with several crimes stemming from allegedly hiding his ties to Chinese companies and universities.[1] In a criminal complaint unsealed on August 23, 2020, the DOJ charged Zhengdong Cheng with making false statements, conspiracy, and wire fraud based on allegations that he willfully deceived NASA and Texas A&M in connection with obtaining a NASA research grant.[2] Federal law prohibits NASA from entering into collaboration or coordination with China or any Chines-owned company.[3]

The case against Cheng represents only a part of Texas A&M’s interactions with the government on this issue. Over a year ago, on June 13, 2019, the U.S. Department of Education sent letters to Texas A&M and Georgetown explaining that the agency believed the schools were not fully reporting all funding received from other countries, including China.[4] At that time, Texas A&M said in a statement that school officials “are reviewing it and hope to have this resolved soon.”[5]


Continue Reading Another Talents Program Indictment Underscores Importance of Strong Compliance Program and Cooperation with Law Enforcement

On March 5, 2019, federal prosecutors indicted Mikaela Sanford, former employee of Varsity Blues mastermind William “Rick” Singer, alleging a racketeering conspiracy between Sanford, two proctors for the ACT and SAT exams, and 12 coaches and officials from Georgetown University, the University of Southern California, the University of California, Los Angeles and Wake Forest University.[1] On August 7, 2020, Sanford agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering,[2] becoming the 7th individual to plead guilty to the charge.[3]

Five days later, US District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton sentenced Morrie Tobin – the man who tipped off federal prosecutors to the Varsity Blues college admissions scheme – for his role in two unrelated securities fraud schemes.[4] According to federal prosecutors, Tobin alerted the government – during the government’s investigation into Tobin for securities fraud – that former Yale University women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith sought a bribe in exchange for getting Tobin’s daughter into Yale. Although federal prosecutors did not charge Tobin in connection with the Varsity Blues scheme, Tobin’s sentencing hearing confirmed his identity as the Varsity Blues tipster in open court for the first time.[5]


Continue Reading Employee of Varsity Blues Mastermind William ‘Rick’ Singer and Varsity Blues Whistleblower Plead Guilty

Federal prosecutors recently brought new indictments against U.S. academics in two separate cases involving alleged unreported ties to China. The Department of Justice moved forward its cases against the Harvard and University of Arkansas-affiliated professors as part of a broader push to combat what Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers referred to as “China’s targeting of research and academic collaborations within the United States in order to obtain U.S. technology illegally.”[1]

Both professors had ties to the Thousand Talents Program, a Chinese government program started in 2008 with the goal of improving China’s access to talent, research, and technology that the Department of Justice has been particularly focused on.[2]


Continue Reading DOJ Continues Its Aggressive Approach in Cases Involving Academics with China Ties

On July 29, 2020, US District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton sentenced Hercules Capital, Inc. Founder Manuel Henriquez to six months in prison for his part in the “Varsity Blues” college admissions scheme.[1] In addition to the six-month term, Judge Gorton also ordered Henriquez to complete 200 hours of community service and pay a $200,000 fine.[2] Henriquez’s sentence is one month less than that of his wife, Elizabeth Henriquez, who received a seven-month sentence on March 31, 2020.[3] Manuel Henriquez, who pled guilty on October 21, 2019,[4] is the 16th parent sentenced, and the last of four parents federal prosecutors dubbed “the most culpable parents charged.”[5]

Manuel Henriquez’s Conduct

Prosecutors alleged Henriquez and his wife paid William “Rick” Singer nearly $50,000 to facilitate cheating on their two children’s college entrance exams.[6] According to prosecutors, the Henriquezes cheated on more standardized test than any other co-conspirator: twice for their oldest daughter and three times for their youngest daughter.[7] Prosecutors also alleged that the Henriquezes paid Singer $400,000 in bribes to get their oldest daughter into Georgetown as a fake tennis recruit in 2016, and that Manuel Henriquez agreed to use his position as a prominent alumnus and former Member of the corporation at Northeastern University to advocate for the admission of one of Singer’s other students.[8]


Continue Reading Federal Judge Sentences Financier to Six Months in Varsity Blues Scandal

Institutions of Higher Education are increasingly finding themselves in the crosshairs of high-profile criminal enforcement efforts. Recent headlines have highlighted a number of investigations and prosecutions that have achieved literal celebrity status:

  • The indictments and convictions of wealthy parents of college applicants in the Varsity Blues investigation, who are alleged to have paid bribes in