62-year-old man arrested in connection to illegal Reedley Lab

Brianna Willis Image
Friday, October 20, 2023
62-year-old man arrested in connection to illegal Reedley Lab
A 62-year-old man has been arrested in connection to the illegal lab found in Reedley.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A man has been arrested in connection to the illegal lab found in Reedley.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday that 62-year-old Jia Bei Zhu was arrested on a criminal complaint for manufacturing and distributing misbranded medical devices.

Zhu, a citizen of China who formerly resided in Clovis, is accused of manufacturing, importing, selling, and distributing hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 test kits, in addition to test kits for HIV, pregnancy, and others in the United States and China.

"This morning at 11 am, we were able to get 'David He' or 'Jesse Zhu' on-site, stepped out of his car. I went over and shook his hand and said, 'Hello David' and within seconds the federal agents showed up and took him into custody," said Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba.

At gunpoint Thursday morning, federal officials arrested Zhu, also known by several aliases including Qiang He, in connection to the illegal bio-lab operating out of Reedley.

Jesalyn Harper is the Reedley code enforcement officer who found the green garden hose at the lab in December 2022.

She says she's the one who made contact with Zhu to lure him back to the location at 850 I Street.

"When the claim was filed against us, it gave us a reason to start reaching out to him and communicating with him again," said Harper. "When he actually showed up, it was a realization of this is actually happening today, all of our hard work is being paid off in this moment."

According to federal officials, Zhu is being accused of creating and selling thousands of COVID-19, HIV, and urinalysis test kits and more without proper licensing.

He's also charged with lying to federal officials about his true identity and business dealings.

Earlier court documents show refrigerators filled with blood and serum, chemicals and medical waste, and nearly 1,000 mice found in the lab.

Zieba says the arrest is a long time coming for Zhu.

"This man created multiple companies over the course of almost the last decade, continuing to get away with what he was doing, fraud, deceit, misdirection," said Zieba.

The criminal complaint shows in 2016, Zhu's Canadian tech company was sued and ordered to pay over $300 million.

Through interviews, the FBI also found Zhu created Universal Meditech or "UMI" in the United States.

They found UMI's FDA registration lapsed, did not obtain emergency use authorization for COVID-19 test kits, manufactured and distributed misbranded COVID-19 test kits, and entered into a contract to make and distribute misbranded COVID-19 test kits.

In November 2022, federal officials learned UMI became Prestige Biotech Inc. or "PBI."

After some time in Fresno, the lab was discovered in Reedley and that's when code enforcement ultimately shut it down.

"The first day that I did my first inspection and spoke with the individuals on-site, within minutes of being in the building, I could tell that I was being lied to, that there was deceit, that there was something not right that they were doing at that point of time," said Harper.

Documents reveal in April, Harper set up a meeting at Reedley City Hall with a person who identified himself as Qiang "David" He to represent PBI, but they knew it was Mr. Zhu.

"Our ability to be able to positively identify him back in April really was a stepping point for this investigation to get amped up and going," said Harper.

In May, an FDA inspection found various misbranded test kits and boxes of COVID-19 test kits.

It was on September 13th, when the FDA executed a federal search warrant for the lab.

The warrant confirmed Zhu was in charge all along and lied to the FDA after they found a copy of his Canadian driver's license.

They also continued to find illegal tests and records showing Zhu's ownership of his previous company in Canada.

Federal officials also say there is no evidence UMI or PBI may have been manufacturing bioweapons.

Fresno County and Reedley city officials have been involved in the process for the last 11 months.

They say Thursday's arrest shows this will not be tolerated in Reedley or anywhere in Fresno County going forward.

"There is still a lot of moving pieces here. There's still a lot to be done in this investigation. So, I think just to let our community know this is just the beginning. And hopefully, we can see the appropriate consequences are issued to the parties involved," said Joe Prado, assistant director with the Fresno County Department of Public Health.

"This little David town took down Goliath, and we deserved for that to be on Reedley soil," said Zieba.

"We knew the public wanted someone held accountable, they wanted someone arrested for what happened, and we delivered on that today," said Harper.

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