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MIT professor asks court to sanction US Attorney Lelling over handling of investigation into China ties

An MIT mechanical engineering professor alleges that US Attorney Andrew Lelling (pictured in December) violated his rights to a fair trial with comments he made to the media.
An MIT mechanical engineering professor alleges that US Attorney Andrew Lelling (pictured in December) violated his rights to a fair trial with comments he made to the media.David L Ryan/Globe Staff/file

An MIT mechanical engineering professor indicted last month on wire fraud and tax violations is asking a federal district court to sanction US Attorney Andrew Lelling, alleging that the federal prosecutor violated his rights to a fair trial with comments he made to the media in the last days of the Trump administration.

In court documents, Gang Chen, 56, alleges that Lelling made comments about the case that were “wildly misleading to both the general public and to future jurors,” during a press conference last month and in a press release.

“In his haste to get the case out the door before a new administration takes over, Lelling trampled on the requirements ... and attempted to make this case appear to be something it is not,” the complaint against Lelling filed Thursday in US District Court in Boston states.

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Lelling questioned Chen’s loyalty to the United States in a statement and alleged that the professor had taken millions of dollars in research money from the Chinese government without appropriately disclosing it, according to court documents.

But MIT’s administrators have publicly said that the $19 million in research money went to the university and was for a collaboration between MIT and China’s Southern University of Science and Technology, documents filed by Chen’s attorney state.

None of the charges against Chen suggest loyalty to a foreign country, according to the court documents filed on behalf of Chen.

Federal prosecutors allege that Chen, 56, a naturalized US citizen who was born in China, failed to disclose contracts, appointments, and awards from various entities in China when applying for a grant from the US Department of Energy. Investigators have alleged that Chen is part of the Communist government’s efforts to steal US technology and know-how.

Chen’s case has gained support from academics, with more than 200 MIT faculty signing a petition questioning the charges against him and backing his work.

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Chen has asked the court to publicly reprimand Lelling and require the Justice Department to remove the press release from its website.

The US Attorney’s office was not immediately available for comment.




Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.