CARBONDALE ― Kara Benyas said she first met Professor Mingqing Xiao when their daughters were both in the toddler room in the Child Development Lab at SIU.
“With our first-ever conversation, I remember being struck by how friendly he was, and how he interacted so lovingly with his daughter. I would see Ming every day at drop off and pick up, and we eventually became very close friends and our daughters are still best friends to this day,” said Benyas, a music teacher.
Xiao was indicted under former President Donald Trump's “China Initiative” for allegedly fraudulently obtaining $151,099 in federal grant money from the National Science Foundation (NSF) by concealing support he was receiving from the Chinese government and a Chinese university, according to allegations outlined by the U.S. Department of Justice.
In November, the DOJ brought forth a superseding indictment accusing Xiaoh of wire fraud, tax fraud and the failure to report a foreign bank account. That's in addition to the previous indictments by a grand jury in April on two counts of wire fraud and one count of making a false statement.
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Previous reporting by The Southern states Xiao fraudulently obtained the grant money from the National Science Foundation by concealing support he was receiving from the Chinese government and a Chinese university, according to allegations outlined in a U.S. Department of Justice news release.
“Ever since we found out about Ming’s indictment, my husband and I have been completely devoted to helping him fight it,” Benyas said. “The charges are outrageous and I am not about to sit by and do nothing, when one of the kindest, honest, and most gracious people I know is being prosecuted by the federal government for doing his job.”
Xiao had worked with SIU since 2000 and was placed on administrative leave following the initial indictment.
The university's response to the matter is: "Mingqing Xiao has been placed on administrative leave, pending the university’s investigation into the issue."
Benyas said ultimately the China Initiative was designed to stop China from spying and stealing our intellectual property. She said this is a noble goal, but the way the DOJ has gone about it is all wrong and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how research is conducted at universities.
The SIU Faculty Association and Benyas are both calling for Xiao to return to the university.
Anne Fletcher, president of the Faculty Association, said it is the FA’s position that the university should drop its investigation into Xiao and reinstate him to his position.
“We think that a presumption of innocence until proven guilty is important. And that's part of why we want to see this investigation stopped,” Fletcher said.
Benyas said Xiao is spending his life’s savings to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees as a result of the investigation, so she started a GoFundMe to help him.
As of publication, the page raised $25,443 out of a $350,000 goal.
In statements that went out in November, the Faculty Association and Faculty Senate both urged members of the SIU community to sign the Stanford letter against the China Initiative calling for an end to the “China Initiative.”
“We urge faculty, students and the general public to familiarize themselves with the issues at stake when freedom to research is constricted with ethnicity as a main focal point by reading and signing onto the Stanford Letter, which is signed by faculty from across the country and urges the DOJ to end ‘The China Initiative,’” Fletcher said in the release.