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Good Practices

Purdue researcher admits fraud

At a US district court, Qingyou Han, director of Purdue University’s Center for Materials Processing Research, admitted defrauding the National Science Foundation (NSF), the USA’s largest research funding agency. His wife, Lu Shao, also pleaded guilty for her role as president of Hans Tech, a company specializing in ultra-light aluminum alloys, which since 2010 has received more than US$1.3 million from the NSF’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) programs.

The couple devised a scheme with multiple irregularities. Han, who is Chinese but has been living in the USA since the 1980s, wrote grant proposals on behalf of Hans Tech and submitted them in his wife’s name. At no time did they inform the agency that they were married and ran the company together. Some of the proposals submitted to the NSF recommended hiring Han as a subcontractor to help develop their products. There is also evidence that the couple paid two employees, who were in fact their two children, aged 9 and 16. Roughly US$150,000 of public funds were used to rent a laboratory that did not exist: the address was actually the house where the family lived. The couple admitted diverting NSF money to repay their mortgage. In another deceitful maneuver, Han himself posed as a third party interested in investing in the company.

The case was investigated by the NSF, the Michigan City Police Department, and the FBI. US Attorney Thomas Kirsch said schemes like this, carried out by an otherwise well-respected member of the scientific community, are an affront to the NSF and deprive other more deserving small businesses from producing innovations and advancements. “The NSF small business grants are funded by taxpayer dollars and are meant to be used as seed money to help fuel innovation and advancement in science and technology,” he said, according to the US Justice Department website. The couple will be sentenced in January.