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Duke employee charged with 15 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor

The Reuben-Cooke Building.
The Reuben-Cooke Building.

A Duke employee was charged Wednesday with multiple counts of sexual exploitation of a minor. 

Yi Yao, 29, is listed in Duke’s internal directory as a postdoctoral associate in the biomedical engineering department. Arrest warrants identify him as a Duke professor but University spokespeople have clarified that he did not serve in that capacity. 

Yao was charged with 15 counts of felony second degree sexual exploitation of a minor, according to court documents. He duplicated child pornography of children between the ages of 6 and 13 years old, according to the documents. Each of the counts could carry a maximum time of 88 months in prison if Yao is convicted. 

Yao is currently banned from Duke, according to WRAL.

The offenses occurred between August 2022 and February 2023. Yao used the software BitTorrent to download child pornography. The state alleged Yao distributed the content, and that detectives downloaded the content on several different dates. The state told WRAL that Yao confessed to the allegations. 

On Tuesday, Homeland Security Investigation, Duke University Police Department and the Cary Police Department executed a federal search warrant on his home.

The Department of Homeland Security is involved due to the “nature and circumstance of the charges,” as the arrest warrants revealed that Yao is a Chinese citizen.

Yao was arrested on Tuesday. He appeared in Wake County Superior Court Wednesday and received an $8 million bond, according to court documents. He was ordered to be under electronic house arrest, turn in his passport and prohibited from using electronic devices or contacting anyone under the age of 18. 

Yao is due in court next in late April. If he bonds out, he will be on electronic monitoring and will have to surrender his passport.

The state expects the U.S. Attorney’s office to handle the case, according to WRAL. 

The Chronicle asked Chris Simmons,  Duke’s vice president for government relations, Thursday morning for more information, including whether Yao had contact with minors in his role at Duke and whether he is currently still employed by Duke.

Simmons responded Thursday afternoon: "We are aware of this issue, gathering information and monitoring the matter closely. Because this is a personnel issue, I cannot provide any additional information."

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Editor's Note: This story was updated Thursday afternoon to include Simmons' response. 

Katie Tan profile
Katie Tan | Digital Strategy Director

Katie Tan is a Trinity junior and digital strategy director of The Chronicle's 119th volume. She was previously managing editor for Volume 118. 


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