CONCORD — A former University of New Hampshire research project manager pleaded guilty to charges in connection with using federal grant money to buy more than $82,000 worth of Amazon gift cards.
Hailong Zhang, 46, of Nottingham pleaded guilty to interstate transportation of stolen money, according to U.S. Attorney Scott W. Murray.
Zhang was working for UNH's College of Life Sciences and authorized to use a credit card provided by UNH to pay for expenses covered by grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health. On 31 occasions from December 2013 to January 2018, Zhang used the credit card to purchase the gift cards from Amazon, which he kept or used to buy merchandise for his personal benefit, including clothing, video games and a snow blower, according to court documents and statements made in court.
To conceal each such use of the credit card, Zhang submitted a fictitious receipt and a fraudulent written justification for the expense to UNH. The bogus documents caused the University System of New Hampshire to make payments on the credit card and obtain reimbursement for the unauthorized expenses from the NIH.
“Mr. Zhang’s conduct is particularly disturbing because the money he stole should have been used to advance important scientific research projects,” Murray said.
“I am grateful for the daily due diligence of the University of New Hampshire and University System employees who alerted the police to this criminal activity.” said UNH Police Chief Paul Dean. “The complex joint investigation was a success due to the strong collaboration of federal and campus law enforcement, and I believe it sends a clear message to anyone contemplating similar criminal activity in the research community.”
Zhang is scheduled to be sentenced March 29.
The case was investigated by the UNH Police Department, FBI, DHHS and the Office of Inspector General, with assistance from the Nottingham Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert M. Kinsella.