University of Arkansas Professor Indicted for Wire Fraud and Passport Fraud

The Department of Justice announced today that Simon Saw-Teong Ang, 63, of Fayetteville, Arkansas, was indicted by a federal grand jury in the Western District of Arkansas on 42 counts of wire fraud and two counts of passport fraud.

“Transparency and integrity have long sustained the pursuit of knowledge on America’s campuses,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “Mr. Ang is alleged to have demonstrated neither when he failed to disclose his financial and other ties to companies and institutions in China to the University of Arkansas and to U.S. government agencies, despite an obligation to do so.  This is a hallmark of the China’s targeting of research and academic collaborations within the United States in order to obtain U.S. technology illegally. The Department of Justice will continue to work with colleges and universities to protect U.S. research and development from exploitation by foreign powers and will prosecute those who defraud the U.S. Government.” 

“This case is the result of the tireless efforts of our Federal law enforcement partners at the FBI and the State Department,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Fowlkes for the Western District of Arkansas. “The wire fraud in this case affected not only the University of Arkansas, but also several other important United States Government Agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the United States Air Force. It is our sincere hope that this investigation sends a strong message to those who would attempt to defraud the Federal Government.”

“The significant federal charges leveled against Simon Ang demonstrate how real the PRC’s pervasive threat is to Arkansan innovation and businesses,” said FBI Little Rock Special Agent in Charge Diane Upchurch. “Our counterintelligence agents work tirelessly to protect our state’s economy from foreign adversaries. Throughout this investigation, we were proud to partner with the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, NASA’s Office of Inspector General, the Diplomatic Security Service and prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Arkansas.”

Ang was a professor and researcher at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas since 1988.  At the University of Arkansas, Ang served as the Director of the High Density Electronics Center (HiDEC) until on or about May 8, 2020.  During his employment with the University of Arkansas and as director of the HiDEC, Ang was the investigator and co-investigator for many grant contracts that were funded by United States Government Agencies.  Annually, the University of Arkansas required Ang to disclose any conflicts of interest, including outside employment.  Agents working with the FBI discovered that Ang received money and benefits from China and was closely associated with various companies based in China during the same time that he was receiving grants from various United States Government Agencies.  The agents discovered that Ang did not disclose these conflicts of interest, even when specifically required to do so by the University of Arkansas and NASA, one of the agencies that awarded Ang and his research associates a Federal grant.    

The indictment charges that beginning as early as June 9, 2013, and continuing to on or about May 8, 2020, in the Western District of Arkansas, and elsewhere, Ang, knowingly and willfully devised and intended to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and to obtain money and property from unknowing United States Government Agencies, the University of Arkansas, and others by means of material false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises and the concealment of material facts for the purpose of obtaining money and intellectual property that he would not have received had the University of Arkansas and other government authorities known the facts involved in his scheme and artifice to defraud.

The indictment also charges Ang with two counts of making false statements on a passport renewal application. Specifically, the indictment states that on or about Aug. 5, 2019, in the Western District of Arkansas, Ang, willfully and knowingly made a false statements in an application for a passport with intent to induce and secure for his own use the issuance of a passport under the authority of the United States, contrary to the laws regulating the issuance of such passports and the rules prescribed pursuant to such laws, in that in such application the defendant stated that he was not known by any names other than “Simon Saw-Teong Ang,” which statement he knew to be false. The indictment also charges that Ang also listed immediate travel plans for a trip to Singapore with a departure date of Aug. 30, 2019 and a return date of Sept. 7, 2019, which statement he knew also to be false.

If convicted, Ang faces a statutory maximum punishment of 20 years in prison for each wire fraud count and 10 years in federal prison for each passport fraud count.  If convicted, Ang’s sentence will be determined by the court after review of factors unique to this case, including Ang’s prior criminal record (if any), Ang’s role in the offense and the characteristics of the violations. 

The FBI and the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) is investigating the case.  Acting U.S. Attorney David Clay Fowlkes from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Arkansas and Trial Attorneys Michael Eaton and Ali Ahmad from the National Security Division are prosecuting the case.

An indictment is merely an accusation.  An arrest warrant represents a finding of probable cause.   A person is presumed innocent unless or until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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For example, the memo did not address how State would coordinate internally on the cybersecurity aspects of digital economy policy issues with cyber diplomacy functions split between CSET and EB. The memo also did not specify how State would develop consolidated positions and set priorities for State's international cyberspace efforts, given the separation of these issues. Moreover, neither the briefing nor the action memo contained analyses supporting the additional details laid out in State's 2019 notification to Congress on CSET, including support for proposed resource allocations for the new bureau. Without developing data and evidence to support its proposal for the new bureau, State lacks assurance that its proposal will effectively set priorities and allocate appropriate resources for the bureau to achieve its intended goals. State needs to develop these areas further to better ensure the success of any new organizational arrangement. The United States and its allies are facing expanding foreign cyber threats as international trade, communication, and critical infrastructure become increasingly dependent on cyberspace. State leads U.S. government international efforts to advance the full range of U.S. interests in cyberspace. The Cyber Diplomacy Act of 2019 (H.R. 739, 116th Cong.), co-sponsored by 29 members of Congress, proposed the establishment of a new office within State that would have consolidated responsibility for digital economy and internet freedom issues, together with international cybersecurity issues. While the House Foreign Affairs Committee reported out this bill in March 2019, the full House of Representatives did not consider the bill prior to expiration of the 116th Congress. State subsequently notified Congress in June 2019 of its plan to establish CSET, with a narrower focus on cyberspace security and emerging technologies. On January 7, 2021, State announced that the Secretary had approved the creation of CSET and directed the department to move forward with establishing the bureau. However, as of the date of this report, State had not created CSET. GAO was asked to review State's efforts to advance U.S. interests in cyberspace. This report examines the extent to which State used data and evidence to develop and justify its proposal to establish CSET. GAO reviewed available documentation and interviewed State officials. To determine the extent to which State used data and evidence to develop and justify its proposal to establish CSET, GAO assessed State's documentation against a relevant key practice for agency reforms compiled in GAO's June 2018 report on government reorganization. The Secretary of State should ensure that State uses data and evidence to justify its current proposal, or any new proposal, to establish the Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies to enable the bureau to effectively set priorities and allocate resources to achieve its goals. While State disagreed with GAO's characterization of its use of data and evidence to develop its proposal for CSET, it agreed that reviewing such information to evaluate program effectiveness can be useful. State commented that it has provided GAO with appropriate material on its decision to establish CSET and has not experienced challenges in coordinating cyberspace security policy across the department while the CSET proposal has been in discussion. State concluded that this provides assurance that CSET will allow the new bureau to effectively set priorities and allocate resources. The documents State provided in response to GAO's requests, including a set of briefing slides and an action memo to the Secretary, did not sufficiently demonstrate that it used data and evidence in developing its proposal. In addition, State's comment that it has not experienced coordination challenges in recent years is not sufficient evidence that the potential for such challenges does not exist. Without evidence to support the creation of the new bureau, State lacks needed assurance that the bureau will effectively set priorities and allocate appropriate resources to achieve its intended goals. For more information, contact Brian M. Mazanec at (202) 512-5130 or MazanecB@gao.gov, or Nick Marinos at (202) 512-9342 or MarinosN@gao.gov.
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