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UCLA researcher charged with destroying evidence related to federal investigation

A visiting UCLA researcher was charged with destroying evidence, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday.

By Bernard Mendez

Aug. 29, 2020 12:48 p.m.

A visiting UCLA researcher was charged with destroying evidence to obstruct an FBI investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday.

Guan Lei, a visiting researcher from China who studied mathematics, allegedly destroyed a computer hard drive while he was under an FBI investigation, according to an affidavit written by FBI special agent Timothy Hurt, who investigated Lei beginning in July.

At the time, the affidavit alleges, the FBI was investigating Lei for visa fraud and his “possible transfer of sensitive software or technical data” from UCLA to high-ranking military officers of China.

Lei, who is charged with destruction of evidence, could face a fine, a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, or both if convicted.

While under FBI investigation, Lei booked a ticket out of the Los Angeles International Airport to Xiamen, China. Customs and Border Patrol agents interviewed Lei at the airport and subsequently filed a Departure Control Order, which prevented Lei from leaving the country. The order claimed Lei’s departure could hurt the interests of the U.S. according to the affidavit.

Several days after Lei attempted to board the flight, FBI officers surveilling Lei’s Irvine apartment saw Lei reach into his sock, pull out a small black object and throw it into a dumpster near his apartment. FBI officers later recovered a destroyed laptop hard drive — which a later FBI analysis concluded was destroyed purposely — in the dumpster, the affidavit states.

The affidavit states that a subsequent DNA analysis found that there was limited DNA evidence that Lei’s DNA was on the hard drive, but concluded there was probable cause to believe Lei had destroyed evidence.

During his initial courtroom appearance Friday, Lei was taken into custody, according to a DOJ press release.

UCLA spokesperson Bill Kisliuk said in an emailed statement that UCLA has fully cooperated with federal agents. Kisliuk referred all other questions to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

Lei is not the first person who conducted research at the UC who has been arrested by federal agents relating to PRC ties.

In June, Xin Wang, a visiting UC San Francisco researcher, was charged with visa fraud for concealing his ties to the PRC’s People’s Liberation Army on his visa application. And in August, UC Davis researcher Juan Tang was also charged with concealing ties to the PLA on her visa application.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in late May that banned researchers with ties to the PRC’s “military-civil fusion strategy” from entering the U.S. The order claims postgraduate researchers are at “high risk” of being used by PRC officials to acquire U.S. intellectual property for the Chinese military.

Lei’s arraignment is scheduled for September 17, according to the DOJ press release.

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Bernard Mendez | News editor
Mendez is the 2020-2021 News editor. He was previously a staff news reporter for the Science & Health beat and a developer for The Stack. He is also a third-year math student at UCLA.
Mendez is the 2020-2021 News editor. He was previously a staff news reporter for the Science & Health beat and a developer for The Stack. He is also a third-year math student at UCLA.
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