The FBI is “reopening” its probe of a taxpayer-funded online school for military servicemembers after a six-month Fox News investigation exposed its alleged Chinese military ties, according to a senior Republican lawmaker.
"They've told us they're looking more seriously at it, that they're quote, unquote, reopening that investigation, and I hope to get some answers," retiring Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told Fox News.
Reached by phone, an attorney claiming to represent the university told Fox News he’s unaware of any current criminal justice probe implicating his client. Separately, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) confirmed in a statement to Fox News that the investigation into the University of Management and Technology (UMT) "is still an active multi-agency investigation so there's nothing we can say at this point."
In 2012, the FBI raided the Rosslyn, Va.-based UMT and the home of its president, Yanping Chen Frame, a Chinese-born naturalized U.S. citizen, and her husband J. Davidson Frame, the school's academic dean.
Documents reviewed by Fox News, as well as recently unsealed court records, show the FBI focused on whether UMT's military personnel records could be remotely accessed from China, potentially compromising military histories of U.S. servicemembers, as well as Chen's alleged false statements on immigration documents that eventually allowed her to gain U.S. citizenship.
Chaffetz stressed that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is going to “take the reins” on the case from the congressional side. “I know he'll be tenacious in trying to get to the truth, but we want to know about [Yanping Chen] specifically, about what has this school been doing -- remember it’s taxpayers' funds that are going … to perpetuate this, and yet there are a lot of question marks on whether or not that data, that information, is going directly to the Chinese government."
With heavy marketing to members of the U.S. military, government records show the school has collected upwards of $250,000 per month from U.S. taxpayers via the Department of Defense (DoD) through the GI Bill and tuition-assistance programs.
Fox News’ investigation found the school's president has long-standing ties to the Chinese military or PLA (People's Liberation Army). While attending George Washington University, where her education was funded by the Chinese government, Chen wrote about her family's PLA connections, thanking her father, Chen Ben, who was a senior general in the Chinese military in charge of technology and arms acquisition. She received a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the school in 1999.
Photos obtained exclusively by Fox News, and reviewed by a leading national security expert on Chinese military uniforms, appear to show Yanping Chen as a young PLA officer and wearing a PLA uniform alongside family members.
"Her father joined the Communist Party in the 1930s. He supposedly participated in the Long March and that gives her credentials not unlike being an officer in the continental army," said Peter Mattis, a fellow with the Jamestown Foundation and a leading expert on China. The Long March, from 1934-1935, has long been referred to as a bloody pillar of the Chinese Communist Revolution which ultimately led to the creation of the People's Republic of China.
Mattis said a school like UMT could be valuable to China for two reasons: "The first is, militaries everywhere want to know what a potential adversary might look like -- what are their capabilities; how will they act? The second is, this might also serve as a vehicle for recruiting individuals."
The high-profile 2012 FBI raid did not result in any charges against UMT or Yanping Chen. After the initial report on the school aired in February, Fox News was told there was a logjam between the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia over how to proceed and whether evidence could potentially compromise intelligence collection methods. Since the raid five years ago, UMT has received in excess of $6 million in government funding.
Four congressional committees are now demanding answers as to why the school still receives taxpayer dollars.
“The rub here is that it's all being funded by taxpayers' money, and so here we are, the American taxpayers, feeding this beast that may potentially be giving information directly to the Chinese government, and that better not be the case,” Chaffetz said.
Regarding the UMT investigation, Chaffetz added, "There has been a lot of smoke coming here, and you got whistleblowers who are close to the situation saying something's wrong here, something's not right. … So I hope the Department of Justice, specifically the FBI, is taking it much more seriously than they have in the past.”
Stephen Rhoads -- a whistleblower, former UMT employee and veteran who came forward to Fox News – called it “very encouraging” that the House Oversight and Senate Judiciary committees are getting involved and “law enforcement is no longer turning a blind eye to Yanping Chen and UMT."
"I want to thank Fox News for following up on a story that deeply impacts our servicemembers, tax dollars, and national security,” he said. "As a servicemember, it is important that allocated funds are not misappropriated."
Yet money keeps flowing to UMT. The Defense Department admitted via email that they put the school under review but continue to fund it. "The Department's Memorandum of Understanding with UMT has not changed. Funding under the MOU flows directly from the Services to institutions," a spokesperson said via email.
Grassley sent a three-page letter on June 14 to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly citing Fox News' reporting. With a deadline of June 28, Grassley sought information on any Yanping Chen immigration records that may have been "falsified...to conceal her affiliation with the Chinese military."
In the first phone call returned to Fox News, attorney John C. Kiyonaga said he represents Yanping Chen and the University of Management and Technology. Kiyonaga said his client has been charged “with absolutely nothing” and characterized the U.S. government’s handling of the case as “full of bluster and innuendo.”
The FBI had no comment. Legal experts said it would be unusual for the bureau to notify an individual or entity in the event a case is re-opened.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.
Pamela K. Browne is Senior Executive Producer at the FOX News Channel (FNC) and is Director of Long-Form Series and Specials. Her journalism has been recognized with several awards. Browne first joined FOX in 1997 to launch the news magazine “Fox Files” and later, “War Stories.”
Cyd Upson is a Senior Producer at FOX News.