University of Florida Staff, Students Busted in Multi-Million Dollar Scheme to Illegally Ship Dangerous Materials to China

University of Florida Staff, Students Busted in Multi-Million Dollar Scheme to Illegally Ship Dangerous Materials to China
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Uni¬≠ver¬≠si¬≠ty of Flori¬≠da (UF) is reel¬≠ing after a shock¬≠ing rev¬≠e¬≠la¬≠tion: a research employ¬≠ee and sev¬≠er¬≠al stu¬≠dents are impli¬≠cat¬≠ed in a mul¬≠ti-mil¬≠lion dol¬≠lar scheme to smug¬≠gle dan¬≠ger¬≠ous drugs and tox¬≠ins to Chi¬≠na over sev¬≠en years.

The Jus¬≠tice Depart¬≠ment inves¬≠ti¬≠ga¬≠tion exposed a com¬≠plex web of fraud. Thou¬≠sands of bio¬≠chem¬≠i¬≠cal sam¬≠ples, includ¬≠ing tox¬≠ins linked to whoop¬≠ing cough and cholera, were obtained ille¬≠gal¬≠ly and shipped from a UF lab. Nongnong ‚ÄúLeti¬≠cia‚ÄĚ Zheng, pres¬≠i¬≠dent of UF‚Äôs Chi¬≠nese Stu¬≠dents and Schol¬≠ars Asso¬≠ci¬≠a¬≠tion, was among those involved.

The smug­gled mate­ri­als includ­ed puri­fied, non-con­ta­gious pro­teins derived from cholera and whoop­ing cough (per­tus­sis) tox­ins. Small amounts of con­trolled sub­stances like fen­tanyl, mor­phine, MDMA, and cocaine were also part of the illic­it operation.

Scheme Exploited Academic Discounts, Loopholes

The scheme, run­ning from July 2016 to May 2023, involved a UF research stock­room employ­ee and stu­dents who pro­vid­ed their emails for fraud­u­lent orders. The group alleged­ly exploit­ed aca­d­e­m­ic dis­counts to acquire mate­ri­als at sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er prices.

The plot unrav­eled when Mil­li­pore­Sig­ma, the sup­pli­er, report­ed sus­pi­cious activ­i­ty to U.S. author­i­ties. Impor­tant­ly, the com­pa­ny avoid­ed pros­e­cu­tion for coop­er­at­ing with the inves­ti­ga­tion under new Jus­tice Depart­ment regulations.

Urgent Need for Tighter University Security

This case high­lights the crit­i­cal need for uni­ver­si­ties to strength­en secu­ri­ty mea­sures and mon­i­tor­ing. It also reignites the debate about restric­tions on for­eign stu­dents and fac­ul­ty access to sen­si­tive research mate­ri­als in the U.S., par­tic­u­lar­ly in light of the pres­i­dent of the Chi­nese Stu­dents and Schol­ars Asso­ci­a­tion’s involvement.

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