A judge has granted GenPhar founder Jian-Yun Dong permission to return to work at his embattled Mount Pleasant biotech company as long as he keeps his distance from his estranged wife, who now runs the operation.
Dong had been barred from the company and from speaking with his wife after his September arrest on federal fraud charges. But Magistrate Judge Bruce Howe Hendricks allowed him to go back to work this month after Dong argued that his involvement is needed to preserve what’s left of the company.
The catch is that Dong, GenPhar’s chief scientific officer, cannot communicate with his wife, GenPhar interim president Danher Wang, outside the presence of an attorney.
Prosecutors sought that buffer because Wang has signed an agreement to testify against her husband, and Dong is already accused of trying to intimidate other witnesses in the case, according to court papers.
Dong said the restrictions add “another layer of difficulty” to GenPhar’s challenges, but he will abide by them so the company can move forward.
Dong, 54, is accused of stealing some $3.6 million in federal grant money intended for research on vaccines for the deadly Ebola and Marburg viruses. Authorities say he used the money to pay for lobbying and to entertain one of his mistresses in China, among other things.
Dong and Wang also are accused of illegally funneling $31,000 to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s campaign and the senator’s political action committee. Graham is not accused of wrongdoing in the episode.
Prosecutors said they have evidence that Dong has tried to drive a wedge between his wife and her attorney, pushing Wang to “fall on her sword” and take the blame for his actions so he can keep running GenPhar. “The United States has evidence that, for years, Dong has attempted to control Wang and subjected Wang to continuous verbal abuse,” court papers stated.
Dong called the government’s assertions “absurd” and maintains his innocence in the case. He said he just wants to converse with his wife about their business and raising their daughter, who is in college.
Dong sought permission to travel with his daughter to China as well, but the judge turned him down. Prosecutors questioned how he was going to pay for the trip, given that Dong has claimed to be broke and unable to afford an attorney. His lack of legal counsel caused authorities last month to push back his trial until March.
Prosecutors question his claims of poverty, saying that Dong continues to spend money the government wants to seize and that he still draws a $105,000 salary from the Medical University of South Carolina, where he is a professor. Dong, who was suspended with pay following his indictment, has a contract that runs until March, said Heather Woolwine, MUSC’s media relations director.
Prosecutors also noted in court papers that GenPhar board Chairman Sony-Yi Zhang, who heads Hong Kong-based Mandra Capital, transferred $100,000 into Dong’s bank account in November. Zhang also has dumped $450,000 into GenPhar’s coffers since August, according to court documents.
Dong maintains that his wife holds the purse strings and controls access to his accounts. As for Zhang’s assistance, that money went to pay bills to keep GenPhar afloat, he said. The company risked having its power shut off, which would have killed important biological samples and ruined millions of dollars worth of government-funded research, he said.
“That all went toward basic operating expenses,” Dong said. “We don’t have $400,000 sitting around. That’s baloney.”
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or on Twitter at @glennsmith5.