MD Anderson cancer researcher cleared of child porn charges brought by hospital
Charges were dismissed Wednesday against a former MD Anderson Cancer Center scientist accused of possession of child pornography after a Harris County grand jury declined to indict him on charges brought by university police.
Keping Xie, a 56-year-old researcher in pancreatic cancer, resigned from the cancer hospital in April, some three months after University of Texas-Houston police launched their investigation into contents of his work computer.
Xie was arrested Aug. 20, on allegations that his computer had five child pornography images and faced a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted of the third-degree felony. He vehemently denied the accusations.
On Wednesday, he expressed sadness that so much time and resources were wasted by the hospital administration in trying to build a criminal case against him.
“It’s sad they wasted taxpayer dollars,” he told the Houston Chronicle in an exclusive interview. “They wasted time, time that could be used for cancer research, education and patient care.”
His attorney, Nathan Mays, said Xie, who now works for the University of Arizona, is considering filing a lawsuit against the MD Anderson and University of Texas-Houston police for malicious prosecution.
The attorney said the criminal case was put together after Xie was forced to resign from the renowned Houston hospital. He, and his wife who is also a cancer researcher, left MD Anderson for Arizona and took their four National Institute of Health grants that totaled $12 million. Those grants typically follow the researcher, not the institution, Mays said.
It was because of those grants, Mays said, that the hospital’s police force filed reports to get Xie charged.
“They acted with intent to damage Dr. Xie’s professional reputation,” Mays said. “And ultimately impaired and hindered his ability to conduct the extremely important research that he does and has done for 28 years.”
Officials with MD Anderson did not immediately return calls for comment.
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office confirmed the charges have been dismissed.
“Every bit of evidence was presented to grand jurors, and with their vote, the community has determined that criminal charges are not warranted,” DA spokesman Dane Schiller said.
Mays said he blamed the UT-Houston police force, who submitted reports that prosecutors relied on to charge Xie with the felony offense last summer.
“The district attorney’s office was not fully informed when they filed charges,” Mays said.
The case began in January, when a computer security officer, using a program to monitor what Xie was doing on his MD Anderson computer, saw the researcher appear to alter a restaurant receipt using Photoshop. He referred the matter to the University of Texas at Houston police to investigate as a possible case of tampering with a government record, which is typically a misdemeanor.
Xie agreed to cooperate with the investigation and consented to a search where police took more than 80 electronic devices out of his home and lab, including laptops and external hard drives, Mays said. UT police arranged to have a judge sign a warrant at 1 a.m. to search Xie’s computers in case he refused.
That data, about 40 terabytes, contained years of test results and other work, including those of his assistants.
UT police hired an outside firm to conduct a forensic investigation of the data as part of their investigation of tampering with a government record. In March, that firm notified UT police that they suspected five images to be known child pornography, although they were not able to determine how the images were downloaded to the computer. The police at UT took that report to the Internet Crimes Against Children unit at the Houston Police Department.
But HPD did not seek charges and instead sent the case back to the UT police department. It was an unusual move, Mays said, because HPD typically arrest suspects once child pornography is detected.
In June, the UT police got another search warrant to search Xie’s computers again but found nothing new, according to court documents. Two months later, after Xie had moved to Arizona with his grant money, he was arrested.