CONCORD — A University of New Hampshire research project manager pleaded guilty to spending more than $80,000 of federal grant money on personal expenses such as video games, clothing and a snow blower, federal prosecutors said.
Hailong Zhang, 46, will be sentenced on March 29 in U.S. District Court, said U.S. Attorney Scott W. Murray.
Zhang worked at UNH’s College of Life Sciences and Agriculture, and the school gave him a credit card to use for expenses covered by the grants from the National Institutes of Health under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
On 31 separate occasions from December 2013 to January 2018, federal prosecutors said Zhang used the credit card to purchase gift cards totaling more than $82,000 from Amazon.com, and then used the gift cards to make purchases to benefit himself.
Zhang pleaded guilty to one federal count of transportation of stolen money.
To conceal his theft, Murray said Zhang submitted a fictitious receipt and fraudulent written authorization of his expenses to UNH.
“Mr. Zhang’s conduct is particularly disturbing because the money he stole should have been used to advance important scientific research projects,” Murray said.
“Government research funds are not intended to be used to supplement personal income. Anyone who engages in this type of selfish criminal behavior will be prosecuted.”
UNH Police Chief Paul H. Dean praised whistleblowers whose tips led to the prosecution, coordinated by Murray’s office and the FBI office in Boston.
“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,” Dean said. “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.”