President of UF Chinese students group implicated in scheme to illegally ship biochemical toxin samples to China

The scheme lasted 7 years, shipped the toxins and other drug samples to China, and was investigated by the DOJ.

Jarryd Jaeger Vancouver, BC

University of Florida student has been implicated in an elaborate scheme in which batches of biochemical samples were illegally shipped from the United States to China. Nongnong Zheng, who goes by "Leticia" and served as the president of the school's Chinese Students and Scholars Association, is just one of many students believed to be tied to the criminal endeavor. 

While Zheng has not been formally charged, she was informed by the Department of Justice last year that she had been named in a grand jury investigation, and that she could be hit with charges for her alleged involvement. The marketing major was recently banned from the UF campus for three years, though it was not clear whether she was also suspended. 

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the scheme involved legally procuring samples of purified drugs such as fentanyl, morphine, meth, and ketamine as well as noncontagious proteins of the cholera and pertussis toxins on behalf of a UF laboratory, then sending them illegally via the ringleader to China. The exact destination for the materials has not been revealed. 

As the Associated Press reports, the man in charge of the operation, 51-year-old Pen Yu, admitted to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He is set to be sentenced on August 2 and faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Gregory Muñoz, a 45-year-old who worked at biochemical company Sigma-Aldrich Inc. and facilitated the shipment of samples to UF on behalf of Yu, also admitted to the same charge. He is set to be sentenced on July 23. 

While the scheme ran from 2016 to 2023, Zheng was only allegedly involved for the last year, before Sigma-Aldrich Inc.'s parent company, MilliporeSigma, found out and went to the DOJ. Zheng claimed that she had been used by the ringleaders, and that she had only done "just a little work” and that she “didn’t get paid that much.” 

The Chinese student group recently petitioned against a Florida law cracking down on Chinese students in university labs, calling it "nationality-based discrimination." A Chinese national herself, Zheng could be deported if she is charged and found guilty, however she has expressed a desire to finish her degree in the meantime.

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