Outrage Grows Over CDC Inaction on Chinese Biolab in California

Outrage Grows Over CDC Inaction on Chinese Biolab in California
A secret Chinese biolab in Reedley, Calif., on Feb. 7, 2024. (Paulio Shakespeare for The Epoch Times)
February 23, 2024
February 28, 2024

REEDLEY, Calif.—It was as simple as flipping a switch, but doing so could have had catastrophic consequences.

Jesalyn Harper, a City of Reedley code enforcement officer, had to determine whether to turn off the power to a secret Chinese biolab in California to prevent a fire that inspectors had said was a risk.

However, the biolab was full of thousands of vials of possible infectious pathogens. With the power off, the freezers’ contents would thaw, with potentially dangerous consequences.

She called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for advice.

“It was a very short-lived and frustrating phone call that ended with them hanging up,” Ms. Harper said.

She left the power on.

That was in March 2023, months after Ms. Harper had first discovered the biolab in December 2022 and alerted authorities.

Inside what was supposed to be an unoccupied warehouse, she found thousands of vials of potentially infectious agents, including ones labeled as coronavirus, chlamydia, E. coli, streptococcus pneumonia, HIV, hepatitis, herpes, rubella, and malaria. A freezer was labeled “Ebola,” and about 1,000 lab mice were kept for experimentation.

But there was no single authority that could deal with all of the pathogens, chemicals, and biological hazards, and the response became drawn out.

City of Reedley Code Enforcement Officer Jesalyn Harper (R) stops outside of the biolab on Feb. 7, 2024. (Paulio Shakespeare for The Epoch Times)
It wasn’t until local officials contacted their congressman, Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), asking him to intervene at the federal level, that the CDC responded to California state and local official requests, according to a congressional report from the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that was published in November 2023.

In early May 2023, the CDC, along with several other agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Fresno County Department of Public Health, and the California Department of Public Health, spent two days inspecting the facility.

Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Calif.) told The Epoch Times that he’s trying to find out from the CDC why the agency initially “looked the other way” as local officials tried to get their attention.

“They [CDC] didn’t investigate for months and months and months and months,” he said. “Why? What are your protocols for responding to credible intelligence of public health risks that are present in our communities?

“Why would you not be on top of that right away?”

However, when the CDC did visit the site, it wouldn’t investigate something unless it had a specific label on it, according to Ms. Harper.

The agency created a report for 20 items that were labeled; those items were sprayed down, disinfected, and put in special waste containers to be incinerated.

“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,” the congressional report states.

“According to local officials, they also asked if the CDC could at least test a random sample of the pathogens. The CDC still refused.

“Despite their limited local budget, local officials then offered to pay the CDC for the entirety of the cost of testing these samples. The CDC still did not and left the site.”

Meanwhile, it was becoming apparent that behind the Chinese man who controlled the biolab was a tangled web of Chinese shell companies operating in the dark in several countries.

Jia Bei “Jesse” Zhu, a Chinese national and wanted fugitive in Canada, controlled both Universal Meditech Inc., which initially owned the biolab, and Prestige Biotech, which later took over the lab. After the biolab was discovered, Mr. Zhu, using the false name “David He,” introduced himself to Reedley city officials as a “special representative” of Universal Meditech, asked them not to destroy the pathogens, and requested to move them to another location. Local officials refused.

Then, another two months after the CDC’s inspection, the Ebola freezer was discovered. The freezer was among 32 refrigerators and freezers that Fresno County public health staff had observed on site.

A city worker found the freezer in July 2023 and unfolded the white piece of paper taped on top, “and that paper read ‘Ebola,’ and it was handwritten,” Ms. Harper said.

None of the silver sealed bags tossed inside the freezer were labeled, she said.

“They [the CDC] didn’t come, they didn’t test, they didn’t even ask us to sample,” Ms. Harper said. “Unless an item is actually labeled ‘Ebola,’ it doesn’t fall under the CDC purview.”

The city never found out what was in the silver bags, as the CDC never examined them.

Dave Daigle, a spokesman for the CDC, told The Epoch Times via email that, “CDC did not discover any label on a freezer that identified Ebola virus or any other select agent or toxin at the time of their onsite support.”

“As CDC determined that, at the time of the onsite review, there wasn’t evidence of violation select agent and toxin regulations, CDC does not have regulatory authority to unilaterally enter or seize materials,” he wrote.

The county was left to coordinate the destruction of the freezer along with more than 103 tons of general waste and 448 gallons of medical and biological waste.

More than 40 trash-can-sized containers of biohazardous waste were removed from the Chinese biolab after its abatement. Officials had to dispose of more than 103 tons of general waste and 448 gallons of medical and biological waste. (City of Reedley)

“How did you not comprehensively enough investigate and search the facility to find a whole freezer that had Ebola labeled on it?” Mr. Kiley said.

“I mean, this is very serious stuff. It’s labeled with Ebola; how do you not find that and test that as well?”

Mr. Kiley, as well as the Select Committee, is looking for an explanation from the CDC about the Ebola freezer.

“We are concerned by the freezer labeled ‘Ebola’ reported by local officials,” the report states.

“It is concerning that, when this was brought to the CDC’s attention, a CDC employee did not take meaningful action in response.”

The Select Committee noted that the CDC had confirmed that it didn’t contact the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, the government biodefense laboratory located in Fort Detrick, Maryland, “that could potentially have provided greater assistance.”

The CDC spokesman, Mr. Daigle, said, “While CDC currently has no regulatory or investigative authority over this building, CDC continues to collaborate with federal, state, and local partners to provide technical guidance on biosafety and biosecurity as requested and appropriate.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., on Aug. 25, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

At the Biolab

Universal Meditech allegedly misbranded, sold, and distributed hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 tests using FDA lot numbers that didn’t exist, according to a criminal complaint.

Mr. Zhu is accused of importing more than 47,000 pregnancy test kits that were made in China and selling them to the U.S. public “without being registered with the FDA as was required.”

“We discovered these devices on Amazon, in just doing our own research,” Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba told The Epoch Times.

According to an abatement warrant filed on June 15, 2023, during a city inspection of the biolab on March 16, 2023, a room was found “housing hundreds of laboratory mice,” according to the Select Committee report.

“A person associated with Prestige Biotech and who appeared to be in control of the Property, informed the investigators that these mice were genetically engineered to catch and carry the COVID-19 virus,” the report states.

In March 2023, Prestige Biotech President Xiuqin Yao emailed City of Reedley officials and asked about the mice.

According to the select committee report, she wrote in her email that the mice were a “special purebred population that took six years to build up” and were “of special significance in the study of immunology and oncology.” She also said the transgenic mice were “biological assets” that were worth “hundreds of thousands or even one million” dollars.

Ms. Yao asked the city to keep the mice and take care of them until she could travel to the United States from China, saying that she was delayed because of a “visa backlog.”

Despite repeated requests from the City of Reedley officials, Ms. Yao “failed to provide any certifications or licenses from any state or federal agency for storage and experimentation on mice and other laboratory activities” at the Reedley facility, the select committee report states.

The transgenic mice had been modified in order to have the ability to simulate the human immune system, according to Ms. Zieba, and they were destroyed.

“We pleaded with the authorities, prior to euthanizing and even after euthanizing these mice, to test these mice, and they refused to test them,” she said.

The biolab contained approximately 1,000 transgenic mice in inhumane, crowded conditions. (Fresno County Public Health Department/Judicial Watch, City of Reedley)

According to the congressional report, the CDC compiled its list of pathogens based on the labels that were on the samples. It didn’t test these samples to see if the labels were correct, or test any of the samples that were labeled with a code that was a combination of Mandarin characters or English letters and numbers, or test the samples that were unlabeled.

The congressional report quotes the CDC as stating, “Although some pathogens could have come from Nigeria or Canada, there were no import or shipping records available at the time of the visit to establish conclusive evidence of violations.”

In its three-page report, although the CDC hadn’t tested any samples, it concluded that there “was no evidence of select agents or toxins” at the biolab, according to the congressional report.

In October 2023, after the county had destroyed the illegal biolab’s contents, Mr. Zhu and Universal Meditech, through lawyers, submitted a claim to the city for $30 million for “unlawful seizure by city officials” and another to the county for $50 million for “unlawful seizure and destruction by county officials.”

Connections to China

Jia Bei “Jesse” Zhu. (City of Reedley)
Mr. Zhu, after lodging his multimillion-dollar claims with the city and county, was lured to a meeting to purportedly discuss terms on Oct. 19, 2023. There, outside the biolab in Reedley, he was arrested by federal agents and charged with manufacturing and distributing misbranded medical devices and for making false statements to the FDA.

He pleaded not guilty to both charges on Nov. 16, 2023, and is currently in the Fresno County Jail awaiting trial.

Mr. Zhu’s Universal Meditech, which operated the biolab, received more than $1.3 million in unexplained payments from banks in China while in operation, according to U.S. lawmakers.

However, the total amount that Mr. Zhu received may have been significantly higher because of limited access to data and records, according to the congressional report.

Some of Mr. Zhu’s payment activities “may be indicative of money laundering,” the report states.

In Canada and in Hong Kong, Mr. Zhu has been charged with stealing millions of dollars in intellectual property from U.S. companies, and his network shows he was part of “an ongoing transnational criminal enterprise” with ties to the Chinese communist regime, “for which he was ultimately charged in federal court,” the congressional report states.

In China in the early 2000s, Mr. Zhu was the vice chairman of Henan Pioneer Aide Biological Engineering Co. Ltd., a Chinese state-controlled company based in Xinxiang, China.

Corporate data of one of Jia Bei “Jesse” Zhu’s PRC companies involved in the theft of U.S. intellectual property. (The Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party)
IND's corporate web, as outlined in corporate documents obtained by the Select Committee. (The Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party)
According to a congressional report from the Select Committee on the CCP, the Chinese regime had a controlling interest in Henan Pioneer Aide as beneficial owners and shareholders through a vast series of joint venture companies. One of these companies was Henan Investment Group Co. Ltd., a company involved in what the regime calls “military-civil fusion.”
According to the U.S. State Department, military-civil fusion is an aggressive strategy that the CCP uses to develop a first-class military by removing barriers between civilian and commercial sectors and its military. The State Department says the CCP gains ground in this strategy by also “acquiring and diverting the world’s cutting-edge technologies—including through theft—in order to achieve military dominance.”

According to information from the congressional committee, the Chinese regime directly owns 46.6 percent of Henan Pioneer Aide Biological Engineering, while 31.8 percent is owned by the military-civil fusion.

Mr. Zhu also served as chairman of the board and general manager of Aide Modern Cattle Industry Co. Ltd. from China, and through this company, he was the primary shareholder of another 11 Chinese cattle companies.

The Aide Modern Cattle board of directors included an executive of a Chinese defense firm. Other shareholders include Chinese state-controlled entities that have invested in Chinese state-controlled companies.

When Mr. Zhu moved to Canada in the late 2000s, he created additional corporations there, such as IND Modern Cattle Development Group Corp., which became a minority shareholder in Henan Pioneer Aide.

According to documents obtained by the Select Committee at the Reedley biolab, Mr. Zhu stated that his company, Aide Modern Cattle, “is looking to seize the opportunity to develop the operational platform for the rapid growth in the Chinese dairy industry, fulfill[ing] Premier Wen Jiabao’s wish to ‘provide every Chinese, especially children, sufficient milk every day.’”

Wen was a member of the CCP’s governing Politburo.

A monitoring device at the Fresno County jail where Jia Bei “Jesse” Zhu is being held before trial, in Fresno, Calif., on Feb 6, 2024. (Paulio Shakespeare for The Epoch Times)

As documented in Canada’s Supreme Court rulings and the Select Committee report, Mr. Zhu stole U.S. intellectual property via these corporations and unlawfully transferred them to the Chinese regime.

In a 2013 business plan obtained by the Select Committee, Mr. Zhu indicated that the intellectual property he took to China via these means had a combined market value of an “estimated $1.37 billion.”

The myriad China-based companies connected with Mr. Zhu are located in the Qingdao High-Tech Industrial Park, an area established by the CCP that oversees the development of biomedical science and technology. It is currently overseen by Li Tianchuan, a CCP member since 1992 and deputy secretary of the CCP Chengyang District Committee.

In Canada, Mr. Zhu used a vast network of Canadian and Chinese companies to steal intellectual property, according to Canadian court documents. While these were separate entities, in practice, they were all subject to Mr. Zhu’s direction and control at all times. Often, his family members or associates headed these organizations.
The 2016 ruling from British Columbia’s Supreme Court describes how Mr. Zhu created corporations and appointed shareholders and directors in order 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.”

According to the Select Committee, this behavior continued in the United States.

Mr. Zhu fled Canada, most likely in 2014, and arrived in the United States, where in 2015 he was the first de facto CEO of Universal Meditech Inc., the owner of the Reedley facility, even though business filings do not reflect this.

The chief operating officer of Universal Meditech was listed as Candace Liu, who was also a vice president of the Central California Chinese Cultural Association in Fresno, California, in 2020.

The association, closely connected with the Chinese regime, promotes “Chinese culture” in California.

What’s Next?

The discovery and eventual abatement of the secret Chinese biolab operating in California has ultimately raised more questions than answers.

Mr. Kiley said he intends to ask the CDC if it has made any efforts to “assess the risk on a nationwide scale as to these sort of rogue laboratories that are being operated, essentially, by foreign agents.”

“What do we know about what else might be out there?” he asked.

Locally, officials feel they did a lot of heavy lifting without proper federal support.

Nathan Magsig, chairman of the Fresno Board of Supervisors, said “this whole thing has been extremely frustrating.”

He blames state and federal officials for not acting quickly enough in a “very concerning” situation.

Mr. Magsig said Fresno County has since implemented an ordinance related to oversight of private laboratories and hopes to see something similar at the state and federal levels.

“To me, this is an urgent matter. And we need to see both Washington as well as California engage. I haven’t seen the president weigh in on this,” Mr. Magsig told The Epoch Times on Feb. 7.

“The fact that a private laboratory, where an individual who had charges against him in another country can come to the U.S., start a business, and receive funding from the state and federal government, is crazy.

“If there are other labs that are like this in the United States, we need to find them quickly.”

The Select Committee report also urges Congress and the executive branch to enact measures to “address these vulnerabilities now before it is too late.”

“At a minimum, the Reedley Biolab shows the profound threat that unlicensed and unknown biolabs pose to our country,” the report states.

“At worst, this investigation revealed significant gaps in our nation’s defenses and pathogen-related regulations that present a grave national security risk that could be exploited in the future.”

A special episode on the biolab in California will air on EpochTV’s “Crossroads” show at 7 p.m. New York time on March 1.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include a response from the CDC.