Reedley Lab: What we know so far

(Photo by Destiny De La Cruz, Clovis Roundup)

October 9, 2023 – Here is what we know about the Reedley lab, based on what has been reported.

Complaints about vehicles parked in the loading dock of an abandoned warehouse in Reedley were responded to by the only full-time code enforcement officer for the city, Jesalyn Harper in December 2022.

Upon arrival, Harper noticed a foul smell and saw a hose coming out of a wall. She knocked on the door, and a woman in a lab coat answered her knock. There were also two other people with plastic gloves and blue surgical masks, packing pregnancy tests.

Harper said that they spoke “broken english” and that they told her they were from China.

Once inside, Harper saw multiple refrigerators and ultralow-temperature freezers connected to illegal electrical wiring, vials of blood and jars of urine on shelves and in plastic containers, and several hundred white lab mice that were kept in crowded, soiled containers.

The women working in the warehouse said that the owner lived in China. They gave Harper a phone number and email address, then asked her to leave.

Afterwards, Harper contacted Fresno County health officials and the FBI.

Before abatement, Reedley Code Enforcement tried to establish clear communication with the representative of this business. Jesalyn Harper was in contact with the “owner,” Xiuqin Yao, via email because Yao stated that she lives in China. Xiuquin Yao is said to be the president of a company named Prestige BioTech.

After communicating with a few different representatives of the company, it could not be determined who was operating the lab. Officials moved forward with abatement.

In March 2023, an inspection of the lab resulted in officials finding “potentially infectious agents”, including both bacterial and viral: chlamydia, E. Coli, hepatitis B and C, herpes 1 and 5, rubella, malaria, coronavirus, streptococcus pneumonia, and HIV. 

Over a hundred of the mice were dead, and several hundred were later euthanized. 

Nina Hahn, a vet formerly contracted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, examined the mice. Hahn stated that the mice had not been injected with any infectious agent and were not experimented on. She said that the mice were used to grow COVID-19 antibody cells to make testing kits. It’s worth nothing that rats are regulated and protected under the USDA, but mice are not.

Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba said that at first, state and federal officials advised the city not to publicly share information about the lab.

Privately funded research and development labs aren’t required to register with the government. Currently, there isn’t a federal governing body in charge of regulating private medical labs.

As Associated Press included at the end of their Aug. 9th article, “What’s frustrating is that we’re focusing on these myths, bioengineered weapons and stuff like that, rather than the real issue, the lack of regulation of these private labs,” said Jesalyn Harper.

Senior counsel from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce has recently reached out to Zieba for input on relevant law change.

On September 13th, we attended a press briefing held at the Fresno Hall of Records.

“Today’s press briefing is intended to share important updates related to the current lack of oversight of unlicensed labs in the United States, and welcomed news from Congress—highlighting this critical issue. Congressional hearings are needed and called for,” stated Fresno County Administrative Officer, Paul Nerland.

“Last week, legal representatives from the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party arrived to serve a subpoena to the City of Reedley, regarding the unlicensed lab [. . .] we want to emphasize today that this action by the Committee is a good thing.”

“Currently, there is no oversight on a local, state, or national level of these types of labs [. . .] Now, although we’re pleased that Congress is taking action, the County of Fresno continues to take action through a proposed ordinance that we’ll be bringing to our Board of Supervisors that will allow our Public Health team to conduct annual inspections of these privately funded labs,” said Nerland.

Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba spoke next, “We’re very happy that Congress is taking this seriously, and by issuing a subpoena, they are able to access documents that the city has that would not be disclosed otherwise during an investigation.” Zieba stated that she is not able to publicly share the documents that she turned over to Congress.

On October 16th it was reported that the company behind the lab, Universal Meditech Inc. (UMI), was threatening to sue the City of Reedley and the County of Fresno for millions of dollars in damage claims.

Universal Meditech Inc. is seeking $30 million from Reedley and $50 million from Fresno County, for a combined total of $80 million dollars. 

In the document, UMI, stated that, “The improper seizure and unauthorized law enforcement activities, as well as the resulting local public media which published many false and distorted reports, led to the inability to carry out the relocation of the new factory building.”

The newest update came on October 19th. The owner of the lab has been arrested for making false claims to federal officials, and also for manufacturing and distributing misbranded medical devices. 

His name is Jia Bei Zhu, also known by the names Jesse Zhu, Qiang He and David He. He is a 62 year old Chinese citizen who was a former resident of Clovis. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has records showing that as of 2022, Universal Meditech Inc., has not been permitted to “manufacture or import any in vitro diagnostic test kits in the United States.” Any test kits the company made and sold since 2022 are considered “misbranded medical devices.”

From late 2020 to March 2023, the biolab manufactured, imported, sold and distributed hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 test kits, as well as pregnancy tests, HIV tests, and more.

According to U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert said that Zhu purposefully changed his name, company names, and locations. 

Zhu’s first court appearance was set for Friday, October 20th in Fresno’s federal courthouse.

Destiny De La Cruz is a budding journalist with a passion for photojournalism. As a Fresno State alumni, she earned a bachelor's degree in Mass Communication & Journalism, the Film & Media Arts option with a minor in Anthropology. She has an interest in all things film, food, literature & outdoors.