Dr. Lieber was the chairman of Harvard’s department of chemistry and chemical biological sciences. Some had considered him a Nobel Prize contender for his work in nanotechnology.
Prosecutors said that since 2008, his Harvard laboratory had received grants totaling 18 million dollars from the Department of Defense as well as the National Institutes of Health.
He also accepted secretly money from China. The Chinese government had set up a program called the Thousand Talents Program to access scientific expertise and knowledge. Scientists were often lavishly paid.
Federal investigators questioned him about his involvement in Thousand Talents. He denied this. He failed to declare his income to I.R.S.
The Justice Department discovered that Dr. Lieber signed a contract for three years with Thousand Talents. He agreed to set up a research laboratory at Wuhan University, publish articles, hold international conferences, and file patents in the name of the school.
The university agreed that he would receive a monthly salary of up to $50,000 and cover living expenses up to $150,000.
In his trial, he claimed that a part of his salary had been deposited into a Chinese bank. The remainder, between $50,000 to $100,000, was paid out in $100 bills.
He said, "They would give a package to me, a brown item with Chinese characters, and I would put it in my bag," at the trial. He said that after returning home, "I did not declare it and that is illegal."
At his trial, he admitted that money wasn't the main attraction -- it was the chance to advance his career.
At his trial, he stated: "This is embarrassing." "Every scientist dreams of winning a Nobel Prize."
In light of his incurable blood cancer and the fact that he was a convicted felon, his lawyers asked for a sentence that included probation or home confinement, rather than prison time.
Dr. Lieber was convicted in December 2021 as a result of the China Initiative launched by the Trump Administration in 2018 to identify scientists suspected sharing sensitive information with China.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that it had over 2,000 investigations open in early 2022 related to the theft of technology and information from the United States by China.
Critics argued that the China Initiative unfairly targeted researchers of Asian descent. The initiative resulted in the conviction of Dr. Lieber, as well as other researchers. However, a prosecution of Gang Chen, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was dismissed.
Matthew G. Olsen said that in February 2022 the Justice Department stopped the initiative. He added that it had "created a harmful impression that the Department applies a lesser standard when investigating and prosecuting criminal conduct that is related to China or that we view people who have racial or ethnic ties to China in a different way."