Virginia Tech professor charged with defrauding government denied bond in federal court

Judge declared Yiheng Zhang a flight risk to return to China

By Rob Manch - Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - A Virginia Tech professor who is charged with defrauding the federal government was denied bond Monday in Roanoke's federal district court.

According to court documents, professor Yiheng Zhang is accused of accepting more than $1 million in grant funding for work that was already completed in China.

The bond hearing did not go Yiheng Zhang's way, with the judge sending him back to jail for the time-being, calling him a flight risk. WSLS caught up with Zhang's attorney Scott Austin.

"We're considering appealing that decision, but we haven't made a final determination about that yet," Austin said.

In court, Austin said Zhang was willing to have a lien put on his house, worth more than $300,000, and that he would wear an ankle bracelet as conditions for his release. But ultimately, it was a statement Zhang's own wife made on the stand that may have ended any chances of release. When asked, she admitted Zhang had told her he was planning to move to China for the next five years.

"I think the statement that he intended to go to China to continue his research made it appear as if he would not be in the United States to answer the charges, when I think perhaps a closer examination of the statement would reveal that it was made out of frustration," Austin said.

Frustration or not, Zhang was also on the record telling border security he was planning to fly back to China on Oct. 2. Now, if an appeal is unsuccessful, that's a plane he isn't going to catch.

"Assuming that our appeal is not granted on the order to detain him then he'll be detained until trial, which in a case like this with the type of scientific evidence and documents involved could be two years," Austin said.

It's a raw deal for a professor who's made a living researching a sugar substitute investigators say has a market value of $68 billion. 

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