A former University of Florida researcher is accused of defrauding the federal government of $1.75 million, news sources report. Dr. Lin Yang, a former associate professor at the university, allegedly used a National Institute of Health (NIH) grant even though he had undisclosed foreign ties and affiliations. He allegedly used some of the funds inappropriately while working as a researcher under the Department of Biomedical Engineering at UF.
The Florida researcher’s residential property in Tampa is being seized by the DOJ acting under asset forfeiture. Reports did not mention whether he had hired an attorney.
Law enforcement alleges that the accused, 43, did not disclose foreign ties and other financial conflict of interest when he administered the $1.75 million NIH grant. The Chinese researcher reportedly founded a company in China called Deep Informatics and was accepted to China’s Thousand Talents Program (TTP), a program developed by the Chinese government that supports the transfer of ideas, technology, and intellectual property from foreign organizations or institutions. He is accused of doing all this in tandem to his research work in UF, which involved developing an imaging tool for muscles known as “MuscleMiner.”
The DOJ is charging the researcher with six counts of wire fraud and four counts of making false statements. Furthermore, the authorities are seeking to seize the researcher’s Tampa property under the Asset Forfeiture Act. This property was, according to law enforcement, purchased using his UF salary; however, under the Asset Forfeiture Act, a person may face either a civil or criminal asset forfeiture if they own a property that is allegedly tied to any illegal activity. It is not clear how the researcher’s residence is tied to the alleged criminal acts he has been accused of.
Asset forfeiture is highly controversial. The law states that an arrest should be made first before the seizure, but there are loopholes identified by activists that forfeitures are performed without being tied to any convictions or a charge of a crime. In this case, the Florida researcher left the country in August 2019 and has yet to return to the United States.
Florida earned a C for its civil forfeiture laws, up from a ranking of D+ several years ago thanks to a reform enacted in 2016. The reform has paved the way to certain changes, such as requiring the government to bear the burden of proof for innocent owner claims, transparency requirements in reporting, and raising standards of proof. Even so, critics of civil asset forfeiture say there are still major issues that need to be addressed.
At the moment, 75% of the proceeds from forfeiture still go to the law enforcement. This still opens a large profit incentive in performing forfeitures or seizures. There is still no action towards closing the equitable-sharing loophole by passing an anti-circumvention legislation, which has already been implemented by seven other states and the District of Columbia. This means that the liquidated assets gained from asset seizures and forfeitures in Florida can still be shared between the state and federal law enforcement authorities.
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