A former West Virginia University physics professor has pleaded guilty to a fraud charge in connection with his work for one of China's premier foreign talent recruitment programs, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.
James Patrick Lewis, 54, pleaded guilty to one count of federal program fraud. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Lewis was tenured at the university from 2006 to 2019. In 2017, he signed a contract with the Chinese Academy of Sciences through its Thousand Talents Plan, agreeing to serve as a professor for three years in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation.
In order to take the job, Lewis put in a fraudulent paternity request to administrators at West Virginia University, asking to be released from his teaching duties in the fall of 2018 in order to serve as the primary caregiver for a child he and his wife were expecting, according to the Justice Department.
"Rather than caring for his newborn child, Lewis planned to work in China during the fall 2018 semester as part of his agreement with the Thousand Talents Plan," the Justice Department said. "Based on the false justification Lewis offered, WVUI granted his request."
The scheme allowed Lewis to bilk more than $20,000 from the publicly funded university. The Justice Department did not indicate when Lewis ended his work with the Chinese government or how much he received for his services.
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