An internationally renowned computer engineer has reportedly been criminally charged for conflicts of interest involving secret payments from a major Japanese telecommunications firm funding his UC Irvine research. Tatsuya Suda, a 59-year-old native of Japan who was a UCI faculty member for more than 25 years until January, faces six felony counts of allegedly receiving from $325,000 to $700,000 illegally from KDDI Inc. and committing perjury to hide the illicit payments from 2006-2009, the Associated Press reports.
Some of Suda's students alleged in a 2009 whistleblower complaint that the professor had forced them to fill out expense forms as part of the double-billing scheme. That prompted a two-year investigation into his travel expenses by UCI campus police and a separate probe by the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), which not only regulates funds contributed to California politicians but to UC and Cal State professors.
The probes revealed Suda double-billed UCI for travel expenses from jetting around the world to academic meetings, which occupied as many of 170 days a year on his calendar. It was also discovered that from 2006-2009, KDDI Inc. had a $450,000 contract with Suda, who earned $155,000 annually from UCI. That arrangement was disclosed to the university, but the professor later agreed with campus auditors that he'd repay $330,000 for double billings, $200,000 of which remains outstanding, reports the AP. In 2011, Suda paid $14,000 to settle a FPPC malfeasance case against him.
But the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA) is not bound by those settlements, and the case by prosecutors in the "white collar crime" unit is based on UCI officials estimating that Suda also secretly received from $325,000 to $700,000 from KDDI, the basis for conflict of interest case filed in Superior Court in Santa Ana. There is not a lot of California case law to rely on; Suda is the first UC professor criminally charged for violating the state's system for monitoring and preventing conflicts of interest by researchers on the 10 UC campuses, the AP reports.
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He was arrested in November at the Fallbrook home of his wife, Grammy winning singer Rita Coolidge, who used to be married to Kris Kristofferson. Suda did not make his $50,000 bail to get out of Orange County Jail until Friday, when the Voice of OC inquired about the status of the case.
If convicted, Suda faces a maximum sentence of eight years in state prison. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment.
Suda is known for novel research ideas, such as predicting the future use of biological molecules for computer chip switches. When he left the full-time faculty of the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences in October 2010, an internal UCI memo stated he'd retired. He departed UCI's emeritus faculty in January.