MOUNT PLEASANT -- Jian-Yun "John" Dong billed himself as a cutting-edge researcher whose biotechnology firm was on a mission to protect the world from a host of deadly diseases.
But federal officials say Dong also helped himself to millions of dollars intended for scientific research, using the cash instead to fund lobbying, travel and other unauthorized expenses.
A 36-count indictment released Monday accuses Dong of using false claims and bogus paperwork to fleece federal agencies out of at least $3.6 million in grant money awarded to his company GenPhar. Dong, 54, is the firm's president and chief executive officer.
What's more, Dong and his estranged wife, Danher Wang, are accused in a separate, seven-count indictment of conspiring to make at least $31,000 in illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and his political action committee, Fund for America's Future. Dong faces a witness-tampering charge in that case as well.
The indictment notes that the contributions went undetected by Graham's campaign and the Federal Elections Commission.
Thad H. Westbrook, treasurer of Graham's campaign and Fund for America's Future, said campaign officials met with federal authorities in October 2010 and provided information pertinent to the probe. "Our campaign has and will continue to cooperate fully with the investigation," he said.
GenPhar, founded in 1999, worked to create vaccines to combat deadly diseases such as Ebola, Marburg virus and dengue fever. The company operated out of a small office off Long Point Road but had been building a $33 million, 50,000-square-foot headquarters behind The Market at Oakland shopping center on U.S. Highway 17.
The firm once talked of hiring some 300 people to work at its glistening new facility, but the project hit repeated snags and the company laid off its 15 employees in June of last year.
The indictment accuses Dong and an unnamed co-defendant at GenPhar of running a scheme between August 2004 and April designed to fool federal funding agencies and divert grant money to other uses. It appears a good chunk of the money in question came from a $4.2 million grant GenPhar received in 2005 to work on a vaccine for the Marburg virus.
The indictment alleges that Dong and the co-defendant falsified grant applications, progress reports, time sheets and other documents sent to federal agencies. They then used federal money for construction costs, lobbying fees, and travel and personal expenses not allowed under the grant program, the indictment states.
Dong reportedly created another company, Vaxima Inc., to help him divert federal cash for his own use, authorities said.
The campaign finance violations center on an alleged scheme by Dong and Wang to sidestep federal limits on donations so they could make good on a commitment to raise $25,000 for Graham's 2008 election bid, the indictment states.
The indictment alleges that the couple conspired to funnel more than $16,770 to Graham's campaign fund in 2007 and at least $15,000 to Fund for America's Future in 2009.
Federal campaign laws limited individual contributions to candidates to $4,600 while the ceiling for individual PAC contributions stood at $5,000.
With the couple already at their limits, Dong allegedly persuaded a German shareholder in GenPhar to transfer $36,000 from a Frankfurt bank account in three payments to him, his wife and a company worker. The couple then recruited conduits, including their minor daughter, family members and other GenPhar employees, to donate that money to Graham in their names, the indictment states.
In September 2007, Dong sent an email to his German connection commenting on a recent development in obtaining government funds for a GenPhar project, noting that "This is your money at work," the indictment states.
In addition, Dong is accused of lying to law enforcement agents about the donations and trying to illegally influence the testimony of a government witness in the case, authorities said.
If convicted of all the charges against, Dong faces a maximum punishment of well over 100 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines. Wang faces a maximum 15 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.