Jia Bei Zhu, aka David He, pleaded not guilty to three federal charges related to his ownership of the now infamous Reedley biolab.
Zhu was indicted on one count of lying to federal officials and two counts of mislabeling medical devices. If convicted, the crimes carry a maximum of eight years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Zhu has a detention determination hearing scheduled for next Wednesday – until then he remains in the Fresno County Jail.
The plea comes directly on the heels of a scathing report from the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Zhu’s attorney, Anthony Capozzi, called the report “absurd” and “inaccurate.”
“They’re calling him an agent of the Chinese government and he applied for political asylum in 2021 in the United States from the Chinese government?” Capozzi said. “That’s absurd. It’s factually inaccurate and totally wrong and you can tell it came from a bunch of politicians.”
Capozzi added that federal officials promised today not to use the report when considering whether or not to ask the judge next week to brand Zhu a flight risk to keep him locked up here in the United States.
The report Capozzi blasted, however, details Zhu’s alleged ties to various CCP entities and “private” companies housed in CCP-controlled business parks.
Zhu got his start, it seems, in cattle, working with various Chinese government agencies to increase national dairy production. It appears this led him to set up a company in Canada which he used to steal technology that allows dairy farmers to select the sex of the calf born via artificial insemination.
That theft led to a Canadian court finding against him to the tune of $330 million dollars (Canadian), causing him to flee the country and come to America (for absconding, Zhu currently faces a six month jail sentence in Canada.)
“Zhu uses his companies, and nominee shareholders and directors, with little or no regard for the notional separate personality of his companies,” the Canadian judgement reads. “Rather, he creates corporations and appoints nominees to create the false appearance that a company is not owned or controlled by him, or otherwise to carry out his intentions which, in this case, were unlawful. This is also done to shield himself from liability for such unlawful actions.”
Zhu branched out into various bio-tech fields, including the importation into America of unlicensed pregnancy – and then COVID – testing kits.
All of Zhu’s companies, the report states, were part of a convoluted financial scheme to make it appear that he was not the controlling entity when in fact he was. Also, the report shows that many of his companies were co-owned with various other Chinese companies with direct ties to the CCP and the government.
“Zhu’s PRC (People’s Republic of China) companies are located in the Qingdao High-Tech Industrial Park. The Qingdao High-Tech Industrial Park is a specialized area that the CCP established and oversees for the development of biomedical science and technology,” the report states. “Currently, the Qingdao High-Tech Industrial Park is overseen by an individual who is also the Deputy Secretary of the CCP Chengyang District Committee, and who joined the CCP in 1992.”
Once this side of the Canadian border, Zhu reportedly hired an accountant to help him set up his web of companies. That accountant, the report states, has a history of working with Chinese nationals who have close ties to the CCP.
“(The accountant) has incorporated and performed work for organizations whose leadership is linked to
CCP leadership and to the United Front Work Department. These include organizations that advocate for CCP control over Taiwan and the ‘repatriation’ of overseas PRC citizens, set up ‘little red classrooms’ in Nevada’s public schools that promote CCP ideology, and promote the CCP’s narrative about the COVID Pandemic.”
The United Front is an international CCP operation that engages in espionage, influence peddling, intellectual property theft, and media influence by using overseas Chinese nationals and organizations – like the Confucius Institutes on a number of American college campuses, including Stanford University to further the goals of the party.
Prior to decamping to Reedley, Zhu operated Universal Meditech in Fresno. The report indicates that many, if not most, of the pathogens found in the Reedley lab had been in Zhu’s possession for quite some time, may have been smuggled in from Canada, and were almost certainly present at the Fresno location.
It was at the Fresno location that Zhu and his staff improperly re-wired the building – presumably to add freezers for the pathogens – causing a fire.
If Fresno had followed up on the cause of the fire properly, its inspectors would almost certainly have found the vials of pathogens and other problematic samples and equipment.
But the pandemic is why, the City of Fresno says, it failed to shut the lab even though it “had burned surrounding shelving and materials. It also noted (during a brief initial inspection) unpermitted lab walls and unpermitted electrical wiring.”
But no action was taken by the city for more than two years after the fire because “all City inspections were scaled back due to the Covid-19 pandemic, including Fresno Fire and Code Enforcement inspections.”
That means the pathogens sat in a manifestly unsafe building in Fresno that whole time.
The report also noted that some of the containers did not say they had deadly diseases in them but street drugs.
According to information provided by the City of Reedley, “Bags labelled “MDMA,” “Coca,” and “Met” (were) found in freezers in the Reedley Biolab. “Coca” and “Met” presumably mean “cocaine” and “methamphetamine,” respectively. Other bags found were labelled “THC” and “Amp” (likely meaning “amphetamine”).
Whether or not Zhu was involved in drug trafficking is as yet unclear.
The report savaged the CDC for its almost dismissive attitude to the potential dangers of the items found in the lab. For example, the CDC refused to test the vials of various pathogens – which included HIV, Dengue, and COVID – that were found in the lab and then fobbed off the City of Reedley officials who later found a refrigerator labeled “Ebola” by saying that since the fridge was then empty they could just go ahead and clean it.
As to assisting with the actual investigation and clean-up of the lab, the CDC was – to be blunt – less than helpful.
“CDC officials confirmed that the CDC made this list of pathogens based solely on the labels that were placed on samples. The CDC did not test these samples to assess whether the listed labels were correct or otherwise in a cipher that the workers used for a more dangerous pathogen,” stated the report. “It likewise did not test any of the apparent pathogen samples that were labeled in a code (i.e., a combination of partial Mandarin symbols or English letters with numbers) despite the fact that neither the CDC nor local officials ever found a key to decipher the code.”
And during at least one conversation about the lab with the CDC, Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba said they literally hung up on Reedley.
“When we initially discovered the lab and had our preliminary inspection we found vials labeled HIV and such, and our Code Enforcement Officer called the CDC’s emergency hotline and explained what we found,” Zieba explained. “The person who picked up the phone said that wasn’t their jurisdiction, and when our Code officer pressed them to help us, the person hung up on her.”
It didn’t get much better when the CDC did finally show up.
“We begged the CDC when they were on site” to test the pathogens, Zieba said. “They refused. We were livid.”
Fixing the clear problem with the CDC and national lab and pathogen distribution oversight is the goal of both the Zieba and the Select Committee. A committee staff member said there is “definitely strong bipartisan interest in working to improve biosecurity and implement appropriate safeguards to ensure this doesn’t happen again!”
Committee chairman Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), committee member Rep. Sam Newhouse (R-WA) and local Congressman Jim Costa (D-Fresno) all agreed that progress in this area must be made.
“This report outlines troublesome gaps that exist in federal law that allow bad actors to take advantage of the system,” Costa wrote. “I look forward to continuing our work to address the existing gaps that allowed an illegal biolab like this to threaten the health and safety of the people in Reedley. It is my hope no other town in any Congressional district will endure what my constituents have through this experience.”
While it appears to this point that nothing did leak – unlike in Wuhan – from the lab, at least one worker Zhu hired to tend the mice (nearly 1,000 dead and dying – supposedly very valuable transgenic mice – were found in the lab) reported failing ill.
“In subsequent interviews with individuals who were at the warehouse, local officials learned that workers were tasked with caring and cleaning for the mice and, on numerous occasions, the Reedley Biolab operators had held back their pay,” the report reads. “One of the workers who tended to the mice told (Reedley Code Enforcement) Officer (Jesalyn) Harper that he and his children had become sick close in time to when he was tending the mice. The worker stated that he was instructed to discard any dead mice that he found into a dumpster.”
As to what could have happened with what was found in the lab, that is potentially far far worse than someone getting sick.
An expert the Globe consulted – they preferred they were not referred to by name but the Globe has thoroughly vetted the individual, their credentials, and their expertise – was blunt.
“My main concern is the ‘what if?’” said the expert.
If it were a state-sponsored bioweapons lab, the United States has a policy of potentially responding to biological weapons with nuclear force, they said.
“What if this is a bioterrorism lab? Would they have been emboldened by our failure to attribute the obvious lab origin of SARS-CoV-2 as a non-natural event? Are there others entering the bio space because our failure to attribute bio events suggests an inability to deter them?” wondered the expert.
And if it turns out to have been a “normal” lab, the Reedley incident reveals how easy it is to acquire pathogens. This fact, the expert said, “would signal to extremists that the biological theater is open season, and that path could conceivably end civilization.”
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