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Deception by Professor Costs Lehigh $200K As Yet Another University Settles an FCA Case

The investigator’s assessment was stark and unsparing. “ArkLight is not a corporation,” wrote Erik Saracino, a special agent in NASA’s Office of Inspector General. The only “office” of ArkLight was in the home of then-Lehigh University professor Yujie Ding and his wife Yuliya Zotova, and a 2013 search revealed “no laboratory or equipment.” Other than Ding and Zotova, “ArkLight has no known employees, contractors or affiliates.”

Saracino’s 2014 statements were surprising, given ArkLight had been the recipient of more than $2.7 million in 10 separate Small Business Innovation Research (SIBR) awards from 2004 through 2013. Through a subcontract of $1 million, Lehigh University, where Ding was a professor of electrical engineering, would be the site of some of the work on the project, which was to develop a photo sensor to detect trace levels of chemicals in the atmosphere.

Because of this setup, both Lehigh and ArkLight were actually ineligible for SIBR funds, and in late July, Lehigh paid the government $200,000 to resolve allegations it violated the False Claims Act (FCA).[1] This is the fourth such settlement this year alone against a university involving federal research funds.[2] Lehigh also agreed to a two-year compliance plan, a copy of which RRC obtained from the government.[3]

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