The attorney for the owner of the infamous lab discovered in Reedley said Thursday the whole string of incidents that led to the arrest of David He was a “gross misunderstanding.”
“There was a basic misinterpretation by the government of what he was doing,” said Fresno lawyer Anthony Capozzi. “This was a research project he was working on.”
What that research project could be is currently unclear.
The “researcher” in question is David He, previously referred to in the Globe as Jia Bei Zhu – Capozzi said He (pronounced “Her”) is his true name.
David He is being held in Fresno County Jail on both an immigration detainer and at the request of the U.S. Marshall’s service. Tuesday, He pleaded not guilty to a pair of federal charges – misbranding of a medical device and lying to federal officials – and was held over until at least November 8, though Capozzi said that could be delayed pending translation and interpreter issues.
Capozzi said he himself is still working through and/or waiting for additional information from the feds in the case.
The lab was discovered early this year and raided in March by the city and state and federal health agencies. Inside they found nearly 1,000 dead and dying mice, tens of thousands of COVID and pregnancy test kits, various biological material like blood and tissues samples, and vials and containers marked to indicate they contained other pathogens, including malaria and HIV.
The lab was cleared out, the mice destroyed, and the pathogens safely disposed of. The destruction of the “property” prompted He to file a claim against Reedley and the county for $30 and $50 million respectively. When – inexplicably – he agreed to travel to Reedley to meet with City Manager Nicole Zieba to “discuss” the claim, he was arrested.
Capozzi said he was not yet exactly sure what type of research He was conducting and is also waiting for a certified translator and/or interpreter to talk to his client in greater detail.
The claim that flushed He out of hiding states that He’s previous company, Fresno-based Universal Meditech, was in the process of moving to a new facility but got into a tiff with the landlord, causing them to leave early and rent the Reedley site for temporary storage. Interestingly, the claim never mentions Prestige Biotech, the company He at first claimed owned the Reedley materials.
To support He’s $50 million dollar demands, the claim lists a number of items and their putative worth, including 1000 purebred mice resistant to tumor cells valued at $600,000 and 3000 “monoclonal antibody frozen cell lines” valued at $30 million.
The claim also may indicate the type of research He was allegedly pursuing. Listed – at a “value” of $10 million dollars, are 300 “recombinant genetically engineered strains which are core technical materials for the expression and production of various immunodiagnostic antigens (HIV, HBV, HCV (hepatitis b and c), Syphilis, Malaria, etc.) and genetic engineering pharmaceuticals such as recombinant insulin, interferon, etc.”
But if “production of various immunodiagnostic antigens” – presumably (very presumably and at best) to be able to create rapid test kits (like at-home COVID tests) is/was the goal of the research, then there is a big problem: an expert consulted by the Globe on the matter reviewed the claim and other background material and said the items in the lab don’t match the alleged goal of the research.
In other words, the claim – like so much of this entire saga – itself makes no sense.
At least on the surface.
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