Ex-NYU researcher reaches plea deal in China bribe scheme

NEW YORK, March 25 (Reuters) - A former New York University associate professor has reached a plea deal ahead of a trial on charges that he conspired to receive bribes from a Chinese medical imaging company in exchange for information about his federally funded research.

Yudong Zhu, a Chinese citizen, pleaded guilty on Wednesday in Manhattan federal court to a single charge that he made false statements on conflict-of-interest forms for a National Institutes of Health grant, court records show.

Zhu, 46, who previously worked at NYU Langone Medical Center, had since 2013 faced an eight-count indictment charging him with conspiracy to commit commercial bribery and honest services fraud, among other things.

The case had been scheduled for trial April 16. Zhu faces minimal prison time, according to his plea agreement, which says federal sentencing guidelines call for zero to six months of incarceration. He also risks deportation, the agreement says.

Maurice Sercarz, his lawyer, did not respond to requests for comment.

Prosecutors said Zhu, an expert in magnetic resonance imaging, in 2011 received a $4 million federal grant from the NIH for research on MRI technology.

Prosecutors previously alleged that, beginning in December 2011, Zhu schemed to receive payments and other financial incentives from a Chinese company, United Imaging Healthcare, in exchange for providing information about his research.

Prosecutors had also alleged that Zhu failed to report to NIH his affiliation with United Imaging and Shenzen Institute of Advanced Technology, a Chinese government-sponsored research institute.

In addition, Zhu failed to disclose that he owned a patent related to the research, prosecutors said.

Zhu was initially charged by complaint in May 2013 along with two other Chinese nationals who had been NYU researchers - Xing Yang, a research engineer, and Ye Li, a post-doctoral fellow.

Charges were later dismissed against Yang, court records show, while Li, who was believed to have traveled to China ahead of being charged, was indicted by a grand jury along with Zhu.

Zhu’s guilty plea on Wednesday pertained solely to false statements he made to NIH in financial disclosure forms.

A charging document filed in connection with the plea said Zhu made false statements about the extent he had intellectual property rights, sources of royalty income and sources of paid travel that could impact the study. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; editing by Gunna Dickson)