CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — A former physics professor at West Virginia University has admitted to a federal fraud charge.
James Patrick Lewis, 54, of Fairview pleaded guilty in federal court to convincing WVU to give him a leave from his job in order conduct work in China for a competing institution that he did not divulge to the university, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.
Lewis entered into an employment contract with China in July 2017 through a recruitment program for scientific talent. Prosecutors said these programs seek to reward individuals for stealing proprietary information.
According to his contract that included a salary plus living and research subsidies, the Chinese Academy of Sciences agreed to employ Lewis as a professor for at least three years.
Lewis asked WVU in March 2018 to be released from his teaching duties for the fall semester because his wife was pregnant. But Lewis knew the request was fraudulent because he planned to work in China that fall, not care for his newborn child, prosecutors said.
WVU granted the request and Lewis spent nearly all of the fall semester in China while his newborn child remained in the United States. Lewis received his full salary from WVU at the time. He resigned from WVU last August.
Lewis faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. As part of his plea agreement, Lewis agreed to pay $20,189 in restitution to WVU.