December 4, 2022


Capturing Magic Moments

Professor spends over $400,000 in federal funds on personal camera gear

2 min read

Can you imagine embezzling over $400,000 in federal funds to buy camera gear so you can take photos for Instagram? As crazy as it sounds, it actually happened.

A University of California professor reportedly spent $404,000 from government funds to buy cameras and lenses. No, he didn’t need them for science or classes — he reportedly bought them to take photos for his Instagram and sell prints on his website.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the incident happened at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. It started in 2014 when device managers asked a researcher, Yi-hong Zhou, if her lab used a $53,000 camera. She thought that was very strange and couldn’t think of any reason why a neurological surgery lab would need such a fancy camera at all.

Fast forward to 2019, another department member showed Zhou a bag of receipts. It was reportedly proven to have purchased over $400,000 worth of photographic equipment, all with government funds! The equipment included a whopping 14 cameras and 46 lenses. According to the report, the head of the department, Frank PK Hsu, was the one who made all the purchases with state funds.

After she blew the whistle, an examination was initiated. The examiners confirmed that Hsu did in fact spend the university funds on purchasing personal camera equipment. They allege in the report that he frequently used “suspicious” or “unauthorized” means to make his purchases.

The LA Times mentions a photo of Hsu taken outside of Notre Dame in Paris in 2015. The photo shows a camera slung over his shoulder, none other than Phase One. And I think most of us know that these medium format cameras cost a lot.

advertisementMore than $100,000 of the photographic equipment was shipped directly to the neurosurgeon’s home in Irvine. He had posted dozens of photos to Instagram showing him using the cameras on vacation and in personal photoshoots.
@melodypetersen Reports:

The university “sanctioned” Hsu in ways that many people find insufficient. Tom Vasich, a UCI spokesman, said the professor paid the university back the $404,000 he spent on equipment. “The university has taken appropriate corrective action,” he added. But experts wonder if that’s an appropriate punishment.

“If the consequences are nothing more than, ‘Oh, you got caught, so apologize and return it, then that sends the wrong message,'” says Michael Josephson, director of the Josephson Institute of Ethics in Playa del Rey. “The consequences should be so severe that someone in a similar situation would say it’s not worth it,” he adds.

Liz Hempowicz, a whistleblower protection expert at the Project on Government Oversight, said it was a mistake not to check the first time something was fishy. I mean, back in 2014, $53,000 was spent on a camera. “Once you get away with something, it becomes a lot easier to keep going when you think no one is looking,” Hempowicz said.


[via PetaPixel]

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