Wednesday, October 17News That Matters

UA medical-school professor Keping Xie faces child-pornography charge in Texas


A new department chair at the University of Arizona’s Phoenix medical campus was charged in Texas with possession of child pornography less than a month after he was hired by the UA. 

Dr. Keping Xie was employed by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center as a professor of gastroenterology research when an investigation earlier this year found child pornography on an external hard drive in his possession, court documents state.

Xie was charged with possession of child pornography, a felony. The charge was filed Aug. 20, according to court records from Harris County, Texas.

Xie had been hired by UA College of Medicine-Phoenix on July 23 as the chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Oncology. His salary is $332,000, according to the UA.

Xie is on paid administrative leave, the university said.

“Keping Xie came to the University of Arizona in July before the University was aware of any allegations or charges made against him,” UA spokesman Chris Sigurdson said in an email. “Upon learning of the charges, Xie was immediately placed on administrative leave and directed not to come to campus.”

Sigurdson said the university has discretion in deciding whether to put someone on administrative leave, which is not a part of the university’s formal disciplinary process.

Administrative leave is “meant to facilitate the orderly conduct of university business,” he said.

Firing a tenured professor such as Xie requires a lengthy disciplinary process. It’s not clear whether the university has started such a process, or whether the UA could at this point. 

Xie’s lawyer, Nathan Mays, said Xie disputes the charges. 

“He vehemently denies this. He is absolutely going to defend himself, and we believe that ultimately he will prevail,” Mays said.

What court records say

The case appears to have started in January with a fraud investigation by the University of Texas at the Houston Police Department, which searched Xie’s work-owned equipment and personal property, court records state.

Detectives linked two external hard drives to Xie’s use of the network. Court records say that a computer forensics firm was brought in to assist the investigation based on a belief that Xie may have altered receipts, which could have been considered tampering with government records.

A forensics expert in March found “several images that appeared to be images of pre-pubescent females engaged in sexual activity” on one of the external drives, according to court documents. 

Richard Gonzalez, the detective investigating the case, believed there were “at least several known child pornography images” found in the investigation.

He contacted the Houston Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children unit for help. A detective with the unit also viewed the images and confirmed “based on his training and experience” that there were multiple images of child pornography, according to court documents.

Xie left the university the following month, in April.

On June 18, Gonzalez got a second search warrant and examined a second external hard drive that was linked to Xie’s use of the network, finding five images of child pornography, according to court documents.

Xie posted a $25,000 bond on Aug. 23, a court record shows. Conditions of bond included Xie surrendering his passport and having no contact with any minors without court permission. He also was not allowed to access the internet or use any computer or cellphone with internet access, according to a court document. 

Worked at MD Anderson

Xie was a researcher at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston until he resigned in April, MD Anderson said in a statement. 

Court documents say Xie was a professor of gastroenterology research.

The university’s statement notes that it doesn’t believe Xie has stolen any intellectual property from MD Anderson. It’s unclear why the reference to intellectual property was included. Xie was not involved in patient care, MD Anderson said. 

His exact dates of employment were not immediately available, but a database of government salaries compiled by the Texas Tribune shows Xie was hired in 1990 by MD Anderson and paid about $250,000 annually. The Tribune’s data was last updated in 2017. 

Previous lawsuit against employer

Xie in 2011 filed a civil lawsuit against the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, claiming discrimination and retaliation. At the time, Xie was a professor in the Departments of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology and Cancer Biology, court documents state.

The two parties settled, court records show. A draft settlement included in the court docket says MD Anderson would pay Xie $75,000 and increase his salary by $1,200 per month. It’s unclear if the draft was the final agreement.

Xie would agree to dismiss the lawsuit, transfer to another department at MD Anderson and not sue over the claims again, according to the draft settlement. The draft settlement said neither party would admit wrongdoing.

The lawsuit says that, in 2004, Xie was placed on administrative leave based on harassment allegations made against him. Xie alleged the university’s investigation into the claims was flawed and “arrived at erroneous and false conclusions.” 

He was not provided basic information about the allegations, and MD Anderson did not follow policies and procedures, he claimed in court documents.

Xie had applied for a full professor status that he should have been granted, but he was denied tenure in a discriminatory manner, Xie’s lawsuit claimed.

Editor’s note: Descriptions of the pornographic material have been removed by azcentral.com. Mobile users, click here to see the charging document.

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