ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WENY) -- A former Horseheads couple was sentenced Wednesday after they conned the U.S. Government out of $8 million dollars.
Federal prosecutors say Bin "Ben" Wen pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and was sentenced to roughly 2 and a half years in prison. Peng "Jessica" Zheng pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States -- and she received six months of house arrest and five years of probation.
Both Wen and Zheng also have to pay back $5.5 million dollars in restitution. They both pleaded guilty last February to the charges.
During their time in Horseheads, the pair created companies to defraud the government out of research money. The pair used their businesses as a way to get the money between 2010 and 2015. Wen created the company "United Environment and Energy", and Zheng created "Advanced Technologies and Materials" In total, about $8.4 million dollars was given to both companies.
"They created scheme companies in order to create false investment letters to themselves in order to tell the federal government, hey look, I have a great research project that other outside companies are interested in. Whereas those other outside companies really didn't exist, they were just creations made by the defendants themselves," said Tiffany Lee, Assistant Attorney with the U.S. Attorneys Office.
Lee added, "The intent of these programs, these grant programs is in order to help further innovation and research in order to kind of really encourage economic growth for our country. When people abuse the system and defraud the government, its basically taking that opportunity away from other well-meaning, legitimate businesses who may have great ideas, and who also probably deserve the funding over someone who is doing it illegally and doing it through fraudulent means."
Prosecutors say they fabricated letters, provided false information and reports, and lied about how the money was being used. Prosecutors also say Wen and Zheng also used a substantial amount of the money for their own personal benefit.