A seemingly routine code enforcement inspection in the Californian city of Reedley led to the uncovering of a rogue biotech lab operation by a Chinese company.
According to MidValley Times, A warehouse located at 850 I Street, deemed vacant, was under investigation for trivial building code violations. However, the discovery of the facility’s complex workings sparked a large-scale investigation, roping in several major health and law enforcement agencies.
Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba expressed the city’s surprise, “It was pretty clear right off the bat that something was going on we didn’t have a business license for,” she said, adding that the building was supposed to be vacant.
The city’s code enforcement officers first inspected the site on March 3, but due to a lack of warrant, they could not delve deeper.
After declaring the site unsafe, they called in the Fresno County Department of Public Health (FCDPH), setting in motion a cascade of investigations involving state and national organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), FBI, and California Department of Public Health (CDPH).
Upon investigation, authorities unearthed a covert lab that had been operating since October 2022 without the necessary approvals.
The facility, owned by AY-NC, LP and leased to now-defunct Alliance Inc., was found to be secretly utilized by Nevada-based Prestige Biotech, Inc. Court documents reveal Prestige had set up the lab following a fire at their Fresno-based facility.
The extent of violations discovered during the investigation was staggering, as the lab had stockpiled over 800 different biological materials and chemicals, among them samples of deadly infectious agents such as E. Coli, hepatitis B and C and even the COVID-19 virus.
Even more disturbing was the discovery of more than 900 mice that were genetically engineered to carry the COVID-19 virus. Investigators reported that the mice were living in inhumane conditions.
On multiple occasions, Reedley officials and FCDPH attempted to establish contact with Prestige’s representatives, including the alleged president, Xiuquin Yao. However, no significant information regarding the lab’s operation was obtained, according to MidValley Times.
David Luchini, FCDPH Director, stated, “No one has come forward from these companies (Prestige, UMI) to say they own these chemicals and biologicals.”
In April, under an abatement order, nearly 800 of the mice were euthanized, and 178 were found dead on the property. Investigators found that Prestige had been disposing of medical waste illegally since no contract with a licensed medical waste hauler was in place.
In response to the situation, Zieba emphasized the importance of regulatory compliance, stating that labs could legally possess such substances if licensed. As a city manager, she admitted the city was at a disadvantage when companies failed to comply with regulations.
According to NBC News, Zieba announced that officials have removed the hazardous materials from the area, but have not yet completed removing everything from the warehouse.
“Some of our federal partners still have active investigations going. I can only speak to the building side of it,” Zieba said.
This news article was partially created with the assistance of artificial intelligence and edited and fact-checked by a human editor.