Lehigh Professor, Wife Convicted of Defrauding NASA

A federal jury found Lehigh University professor Yujie Ding and his wife, Yuliya Zotova, sent NASA bills for work that was primarily done by students.

A federal jury convicted a Lehigh Valley couple of defrauding the the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Yujie Ding, 53, and Yuliya Zotova, 41, are both from Center Valley, about 20 minutes south of Allentown. Ding is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Lehigh. About a year ago, Ding was first charged with wire fraud and accused of stealing $300,000 from NASA.

His wife, Zotova, was also charged. A grand jury indictment was unsealed in February.

In the summers of 2009 and 2010, Ding and his wife proposed two projects for NASA totaling about $700,000 of work, revised from an initial $300,000 estimate. The convicted defendants said a company he was a consultant for, ArkLight, would carry out some of the research and development of a sensor that measures gases in the air. The rest of the work would be subcontracted to Lehigh University.

But Ding did not identify himself as an owner of ArkLight; his wife Zotova is the president. The pair used the NASA grant to funnel money to themselves. ArkLight had no facilities to perform this work; an indictment said a graduate student did much of the work in a Lehigh lab. “As defendants Ding and Zotova well knew, ArkLight had no facilities,” the indictment read. “It was part of the scheme that ArkLight did not perform the required amount — or, in fact, any — of the work for the contracts.” A jury found the couple sent invoices to NASA for research ArkLight had not performed. They were each convicted of six counts of wire fraud.

Lehigh University was not charged with any wrongdoing in the case. When reached today, the university could not comment on the future of Ding’s employment status there.

The original complaint said Ding was preparing to flee to Reykjavik, Iceland, when NASA special agent Erik Saracino captured him last year. Ding and Zotova face sentencing on March 2nd of next year.

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