Former Virginia Tech professor formally charged with defrauding US government

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) A federal grand jury has indicted a former engineering professor at Virginia Tech, according to a statement from federal prosecutors.

Yiheng Percival Zhang, 46, was formally charged Tuesday with one count of conspiring to defraud the United States, three counts of making false statements within the jurisdiction of the United States, and three counts of making false claims to the United States.

In a statement to news media, prosecutors say Zhang applied for $600,000 in grant funding through the National Science Foundation (NSF) under the premise that the money would be used for research on certain projects.

Prosecutors accused Zhang of using the money for other purposes. In their statement, prosecutors wrote that Zhang, in an email to a CFB employee, stated: “What we expect here is to get this free money and use half of money to do what you want to do to do – make sweeteners. Another half will be used to pay VT graduate students to finish this project.”

Zhang's attorney Scott Austin says they will continue to fight the charges in court.

The grand jury issued the indictment which essentially formalizes the previously filed criminal complaint," said Austin.

"I don't believe it adds any additional allegations, or information. Dr. Zhang has and continues to maintain innocence and will vigorously defend against these allegations as he has those previously made."

Zhang, a former professor of Biological Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech, was also the Chief Scientific Officer of Cell-Free Bioinnovations (CFB).