Grant fraud case against mechanical engineering professor Gang Chen dismissed

The case was dismissed ‘in the interests of justice’ based on new information obtained by the US Attorney’s Office of the District of Massachusetts

A judge approved federal prosecutors’ motion to dismiss the case against Mechanical Engineering Professor Gang Chen Jan. 20.

The case alleged that Chen committed wire fraud, failed to file a foreign bank account report, and made a false statement in a tax return. Chen was arrested Jan. 14, 2021 and pleaded not guilty to all charges. 

U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins wrote in a statement that “additional information pertaining to the materiality of Professor Chen’s alleged omissions in the context of the grant review process” had “recently” been obtained by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Massachusetts. After “careful assessment,” prosecutors concluded that they could no longer meet their “burden of proof at trial” and decided to dismiss the case “in the interests of justice.”

Robert Fisher, Chen’s lawyer in the case, said in a statement Jan. 20 that the “government finally acknowledged what we have said all along: [Chen] is an innocent man.”

In an opinion piece to The Boston Globe Jan. 21, Chen wrote that he had known he “was under investigation by the Department of Justice under its China Initiative” established under Donald Trump’s presidency.

According to the Department of Justice website, the China Initiative “reflects the strategic priority of countering Chinese national security threats and reinforces [Trump’s] overall national security strategy.” The website adds that its goals include identifying “priority trade secret theft cases” and “bringing enforcement actions when appropriate” to “unregistered agents seeking to advance China’s political agenda.”

Chen wrote in his piece that the indictment had been “rushed” and that both the indictment and complaint “were riddled with basic factual errors.” Chen added that his arrest occurred during Trump’s last week in office, which meant that Andrew Lelling, the then-federal prosecutor in Boston who helped create the China Initiative and announced Chen’s arrest, “was about to leave office.”

Lelling wrote in a LinkedIn post December 2021 that the China Initiative “has drifted and, in some significant ways, lost its focus.”

Chen also wrote that he and his family “went through a living hell” for “371 days,” adding that there is “no winner” in what appeared to him as “a politically and racially motivated prosecution.” The prosecution “managed to blunt” one of the U.S.’s “great strengths,” its “rich history of academic research and collaboration,” Chen wrote.

President L. Rafael Reif wrote in an email to the MIT community Jan. 20 that Chen’s case has “caused ongoing distress” for “those across MIT and elsewhere who are of Chinese descent.”

According to a Dec. 2, 2021 report by the MIT Technology Review, 88% of individuals charged under the China Initiative were of Chinese heritage.

“Having had faith in [Chen] from the beginning, we can all be grateful that a just outcome of a damaging process is on the horizon,” Reif wrote. “We are eager for [Chen’s] full return to our community,” he concluded.

Update 02/03/2022: A previous version of the article featured an incorrect spelling of U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins' name. The article has been corrected.