Charles M. Lieber, an expert in nanoscience and former chair of Harvard University’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, pleaded not guilty to charges that he lied to federal authorities and did not declare foreign income or a foreign bank account to the IRS on his federal tax filing, as US law requires. Lieber entered his plea in a Boston federal court hearing held by videoconference on July 30.
Since 2008, Lieber’s lab at Harvard has received grants totaling more than $15 million from the US National Institutes of Health and the US Department of Defense, according to the indictment. As a provision of those grants, Lieber was required to disclose his affiliations and collaborations with foreign institutions. The US government alleges that Lieber became a “Strategic Scientist” at Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in 2011 and in 2012 signed a 3-year contract to be part of China’s Thousand Talents Program. He is charged with lying about these affiliations in interviews with authorities in 2018 and 2019.
As part of his arrangement with WUT, the school allegedly paid Lieber a salary of up to $50,000 per month and living expenses of up to $150,000. According to the indictment, Lieber did not declare this income on his federal tax filings in 2013 and 2014, nor did he disclose to the IRS that he maintained a bank account in China.
If found guilty, Lieber faces up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of two charges of making false statements, 3 years in prison and a $100,000 fine for each of two charges of filing false tax returns, and 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of two charges of failing to disclose his foreign bank account.
“The indictment is flat-out wrong,” Lieber’s lawyer Torrey K. Young emailed in a statement. “The notion that Professor Lieber was engaged in improper work with China is laughable. He didn’t hide anything, and he didn’t get paid as the government alleges.”
Lieber was released on $1 million cash bond on Jan. 30. That bail was modified in the July 30 hearing, shifting to $400,000 in cash and $600,000 in equity in the home Lieber owns with his wife in Lexington, Massachusetts. Another of Lieber’s lawyers, Marc Mukasey, requested the change so that Lieber could free up funds for expenses, including his legal defense.
Mukasey told federal judge Marianne B. Bowler that he plans to call about a dozen witnesses at Lieber’s trial, which he expects to last 2 weeks. The next hearing is scheduled for Sept. 16.