FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — On June 16 in the Western District of Arkansas Federal Court in Fayetteville, Dr. Simon Saw-Teong Ang, 65, a former University of Arkansas professor, was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison.
On January 21, Ang signed a plea agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to a charge of making a “materially false and fictitious and fraudulent statement” to an FBI special agent. In exchange, over 50 other remaining charges against him were dropped, including federal wire fraud.
That January agreement noted that the prosecution and the defendant agreed that a sentence of one year and one day would be “the appropriate sentence in this matter,” according to federal rules of criminal procedure. Ang will also be fined $5,600.
On June 16, counsel for both sides met briefly in chambers shortly before 10:30. Judge Timothy L. Brooks entered the courtroom and began the sentencing hearing at 10:35 a.m., explaining the original indictment and charges against Ang before proceeding to methodically lay out the different factors he would take into account for sentencing purposes.
He noted that both sides had signed off on a “binding plea agreement,” but that the court could still deviate from that sentence. “Most of the time, this is fairly perfunctory,” he stated while adding that this particular case required that “a lot more thought has to go into it.”
Brooks then outlined the two-step process he would use to arrive at a final sentence, which incorporates an offense level for the crime as well as the defendant’s criminal history. The combination of factors ultimately resulted in a suggested sentence range of 18-24 months on the court’s sentencing grid. Downward adjustments were made because Ang has no criminal history.
Prosecuting attorney David Clay Fowlkes told the court that the government believes that the agreement “strikes the correct” balance, including promoting respect for the law and serving as a deterrent against future criminal activity like Ang’s. Defense attorney Drew Ledbetter spoke a bit longer, noting that the plea agreement is “very much a compromise.”
“We’re all walking away a little unhappy,” he said of the plea deal. He also explained that his client has been “punished in other ways,” and “far more significantly” than just the consequences of a prison sentence. He went on to explain Ang’s move to Arkansas from Malaysia in 1977, prompted by both the university’s affordable price as well as its placement alphabetically on a list of American colleges that he read.
Ledbetter told the court that Ang arrived in Fayetteville on New Year’s Day, unaware that the school cafeteria was closed for the holiday. After two days without food, Ang had what he described as “the best meal of his life” at Fulbright Cafeteria. All of his children have followed in his footsteps as students at UA.
Ledbetter concluded by noting that friends and family interviewed in the investigation now view Ang as “some kind of Chinese spy,” and that his client simply wants to spend the remainder of his life focusing on his family. “With great humility and great respect,” the defense requested the shortest possible term of post-incarceration supervised release.
Ang also spoke briefly on his own behalf, taking full accountability for his actions. “I sincerely apologize to this court for my conduct,” he added.
Judge Brooks acknowledged that Ang’s crime falls “towards the low end of the spectrum of relative seriousness” regarding the federal cases he sees in his courtroom. “But context really matters,” he added.
The judge noted that Ang had been “cooperative with the government” during an ongoing investigation and that he was “loved and respected by his colleagues” at the university. The judge also noted receiving several letters on Ang’s behalf.
Finally stating that Ang has already “paid a very steep price” due to the career ramifications of his arrest, Brooks ultimately issued a prison sentence of one year and one day, to be followed by one year of supervised release. The defense requested that Ang be incarcerated in Texarkana, which the judge will suggest to the Bureau of Prisons.
Noting that we live in a “small world,” Judge Brooks noted that his mother spent many years working in the University of Arkansas cafeteria and may very well have served him that memorable meal he had in 1977.
Ang has been out on bond and will be allowed to self-report to prison, with a tentative deadline set for July 20 at 1 p.m.
Ang was a professor of electrical engineering and a researcher at UA, which has a policy regarding inventions, patents, and intellectual property. That policy notes that the “ownership of all Inventions created by any person or persons to whom this policy is applicable shall reside in the University.”
While working as an Arkansas professor, Ang held “multiple positions with companies based in the People’s Republic of China.” A total of 24 patents listing him as a co-inventor were filed in China under Ang’s name or his Chinese birth name. He did not disclose these to the university.
The false statement to the FBI came during an interview on May 8, 2020. When asked by a Special Agent if his name would be listed as the inventor on numerous patents in China, Ang responded “Yeah, I am not the inventor, I don’t even know what that is.”
The plea agreement noted that the maximum penalties Ang could face included a prison term of up to five years and a maximum fine of $250,000, as well as a supervised release term of up to three years after his imprisonment.