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Illegal COVID lab, Reedley, CA. (Photo: Reedley code enforcement)

Reedley ‘Lab’ Prompts Legislation

Rep. Costa introduces bill to monitor labs

By Thomas Buckley, April 26, 2024 4:48 pm

Sometimes, a near tragedy can lead to some good.

This week, Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) introduced a bill that will simplify communication between government agencies, create a “single point of contact” when a skectchy lab is discovered, and have companies that sell infectious agents keep track of who is buying them and flag suspicious purchases.

“Over the past year of working with local, state, and federal leaders on investigating and cleaning up the illegal lab in Reedley, it became clear that changes were needed on the federal level to ensure public safety,” Costa said at a press conference in Reedley announcing the new bill.  “This legislation is the first step to closing the gap in the regulation of labs and will prevent bad actors from taking advantage of the public health system. It creates tracking, better review of anyone working with infectious diseases and deeper cooperation between local, state, and federal agencies.”

The bill is meant to close loopholes that allowed a dangerous, possibly infectious, stealth lab to operate in Reedley.

After the discovery of the lab by eagle-eyed Reedley code enforcement officer Jesalyn Harper, the city had to jump through hoops and try to navigate a federal bureaucracy maze to get anyone to help them figure out how to handle the situation.

The filthy, disorderly “lab,” reportedly owned by Chinese-national and intellectual property thief David He (or Jai Bei Zhu – he has multiple  aliases) who is currently being held at Fresno County Jail after being charged with a pair of federal crimes, was found to contain numerous infectious agents like HIV and malaria.

In addition, Harper found dead and dying testing mice – genetically modified to mimic human disease and infection reactions,- barely operating freezers, and other equipment holding vials and other containers labeled as containing the infectious agents.

It should be noted that He’s Fresno attorney – Anthony Capozzi – said He has claimed he was running a research project at the location.

Harper also found a refrigerator labeled “Ebola,” decaying equipment stored randomly in the warehouse, and tens of thousands of boxes of covid and pregnancy tests.

Immediately, the city called the the Fresno County and the FBI. After two months, the FBI closed its investigation, saying it had not found weapons of mass destruction. In the meantime, the city had been desperately calling the CDC and other agencies to try to figure out what to do with the site.

Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba said that not only was the CDC not helpful, a representative of the agency actually hung up on her while she was trying to explain the situation.

The city contacted Costa’s office, who forced the CDC to actually visit the site.  The CDC said it found no “select agents” – the really really bad things like Ebola – and went home without testing the materials in the marked vials.

Nor did the CDC look into the refrigerator that had a sign on it that said “Ebola.”

Last fall, then-new CDC chief Mandy Cohen defended the agency during a Congressional hearing.

Cohen said they found no “select agents,” (those are really nasty things; here’s the list – note Ebola is on the list though the CDC claims they were unaware of the refrigerator sign) but admitted they did not test anything, basically because it’s not what they do.

Cohen added – astonishingly – that the CDC was less concerned about the lab because it had no proper lab equipment like safety hoods (the fanned glass cabinets you may remember from science class.)

That bears repeating: Cohen said they were less worried about the secret lab because it didn’t look like a regular proper safe normal lab. 

Exactly what Cohen would expect a secret lab full of infectious diseases, dead transgenic mice, jerry rigged electric and water systems, and thousands of boxes of embargoed covid and pregnancy tests kits would look like is unknown.

The bill, formally “The Prevent Illegal Laboratories and Protecting Public Health Act,” addresses a number of the issues Reedley faced.  

First, it “require sellers of highly infectious agents to keep a logbook of all sales and maintain those records for at least five years, including identification of the purchaser(s).”

This, said Costa’s office, fix would help prevent highly infectious agents from ending up in the wrong hands, which could have halted the biolab before it started. A bipartisan Select Congressional Committee report  found that the biolab’s owner was able to purchase infectious agents from U.S.-based laboratories.

Second,  the bill would “require regular evaluations of high-containment laboratories in the United States after designating a single Federal official to lead the overview.”

That single “Public Health and Biosecurity Team” concept is a key part of the bill, as Reedley discovered when it was trying to figure out who exactly at the federal level should handle the potentially lethal lab situation.

“That single point would have been critical to us and quickly given us the direction we needed to go,” Zieba said.  “With that, we could have done much more, more quickly.”

Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin), is a co-sponsor of the bill in the House and pointed to other troubling aspects of the Reedley lab situation that could be curtailed by the new regulations and oversight.

The lab, which was a mishmash of items He moved from a similar business in Fresno, appeared to have as its theoretical main purpose the re-labeling of Chinese-made pregnancy and covid tests kits as being “Made in the USA.”  The tests were not allowed to be sold in the United States, actually,  which “raises the question as to the true purpose of the lab – especially given that Jesse Zhuhe, its criminal operator, was ‘receiving unexplained payments via wire transfer’ from Chinese banks,” noted Kiley.

Lab owner He, the congressional report stated, has deep ties to the Chinese Communist Party and that, while grifting in Canada, He stole important cattle screening technology from an American firm.  He was found liable for the theft and hit with a $300 million judgement by a Canadian court.   By that point, it appears, He had fled Canada and come to the United States.

Kiley said the legislation will not only simplify the process if and when a similar lab is found but that it will help make sure such labs are not set up in the first place, noting the congressional report stated that “no one knows whether there are other unknown biolabs because there is no monitoring system in place.”

Costa said he is hopeful that the bill can be approved by the House of Representatives before its August recess.  He is also talking to California’s senators about their introducing parallel legislation in that chamber, which would speed the passage of the bill substantially.

As to the bill itself, Zieba and Reedley are pleased.

“We have to get something started,” said Zeiba, “and this is the beginning something very good.”

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One thought on “Reedley ‘Lab’ Prompts Legislation

  1. If you want to find these labs, follow the clean rooms! Chemical and equipment suppliers are the people you have to talk to. Forcing licensing of clean rooms would be a start. You can not do much risky biochemistry without them and live to tell the tale.
    Also, what are they doing with their effluent? Dumping it in the john? You are dealing with foreign peasants with on-the-job chem degrees, cartel mixing and packaging outfits, designer drug labs, and ding bat “chemists” trying to counterfeit copyrighted chemical reagents.
    I doubt there are many people in Newson cadre of AF hires to know where to start.

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