Senior NASA scientist pleads guilty to lying about China involvement

A senior NASA scientist pleaded guilty Wednesday to lying to authorities about his participation in a program that encourages researchers to develop relationships with China in exchange for grants, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Wednesday.

Meyya Meyyappan, of Pacifica, California, was charged with one count of making false statements to the FBI, NASA OIG and the USAO, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Meyyappan participated in the Thousand Talents Program, a Chinese government program to recruit people familiar with foreign technology and intellectual property, and held professorships at universities in China, South Korea and Japan.

On Oct. 27, 2020, Meyyappan was interviewed by the FBI, NASA OIG and the USAO, in New York, New York. During his interview, he falsely told investigators he was not a member of the Thousand Talents Program and did not hold the professorship in China, prosecutors said.

In a statement, FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said, “Members of U.S. government agencies are strictly prohibited from maintaining undisclosed affiliations with foreign entities.”

“Meyyappan violated this sacred rule, and then lied to FBI agents about it,” Sweeney added.

Prosecutors said Meyyappan joined NASA in 1996, and has held a position of chief scientist for exploration technology at the Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley since 2006.

Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said, “Meyya Meyyappan held a trusted position at NASA, with access to valuable intellectual property. In violation of the terms of his employment and relevant laws and regulations, Meyyappan failed to disclose participation in a Chinese government recruitment program, and subsequently lied about it to NASA investigators, FBI agents, and our Office. Now, having admitted his crime, Meyyappan awaits sentencing.”

Meyyappan faces up to a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.

Meyyappan is scheduled to be sentenced on June 16, the DOJ said.