Federal and state investigators have turned their attention to the Reedley medical laboratory containing mice, thousands of gallons of biological fluids, and samples of HIV, malaria, Covid, and chlamydia in what was supposed to be an abandoned warehouse.
Sources confirmed that Congressman Jim Costa’s office (D-Fresno) coordinated between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and two other federal agencies investigating the laboratory.
Joe Prado, assistant public health director with the Fresno County Department of Public Health, also said that the FBI has been consulting with state and federal agencies, including Centers for Disease Control, Food and Drug Administration, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on the investigation. A press contact with the FBI declined to comment.
Testing by public health agencies shows there is no threat to the public either in the air or in the water, said Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba.
The business owners never applied for a license and Zieba says it was a city inspector’s diligence that lead to the discovery. But concerns arose from one Fresno politician that once the discovery was made, the public should have been notified.
“There is no excuse, as far as I’m concerned, for not notifying the public about what’s taking place,” said Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld at a Monday morning news conference at Fresno City Hall.
Timeline of Reedley Lab Discovery
In December, a Reedley code enforcement officer noticed a garden hose coming out of the back of 850 I St., Zieba said. The city had known the building to be vacant going back to at least 2011 so that prompted inspectors to dig deeper.
GV Wire’s David Taub contributed to this story.
On March 3, Reedley code enforcement went to 850 I St. in Reedley, where Prestige Biotech operated the medical laboratory, according to court documents. After noticing building code violations, Reedley officials attempted to reach the property and business owners. At that inspection, the Department of Toxic Substances Control tested the air to ensure there were no airborne threats to the public.
The building owner is listed as AY-NC LP. Attempts to reach Nin Ho Au-Yeung of Oakland were not returned. Calls made to Zhaolin Wang of Nevada-based Prestige Biotech and Universal Meditech, Inc. were not returned.
What inspectors found prompted them to involve federal, state, and county authorities. Boxes containing vials of blood, urine, and more had been stacked haphazardly throughout the warehouse. County public health officials, as well as the CDC, had to break into two locked sub-zero freezers containing samples of malaria, HIV, Covid, and chlamydia. A cleaning company found 44 drums of biological fluids still frozen.
Zieba said backflow prevention devices at the business would have kept any contaminants from getting into the water supply. The backflow device had not been tempered and was still working. Wastewater samples showed no irregularities.
Nearly 1,000 white lab mice were kept in cages. The county’s contracted veterinarian euthanized the mice still alive. All but 10 kept as evidence were incinerated.
What We Know About Prestige Biotech, Universal Meditech
Prestige Biotech never had a license or permit to operate in Reedley, according to the California Department of Public Health, which permits medical labs. State officials said they would not comment on pending investigations. Owners of Prestige never applied for a business license in Reedley either, Zieba said.
Universal Meditech, who is connected to Prestige Biotech, manufactured pregnancy tests in Fresno. The company moved to Fresno in 2019.
Prestige Biotech’s business license is filed in Nevada. An address for Prestige is an empty building there.
Reedley City Manager Says Conspiracies Overblown
While the discoveries were “shocking,” said Zieba, they are not as “salacious” as some of the theories circulating on social media. Based on conversations with Zieba, she believes that business owners had been using the Reedley warehouse as a storage facility while Universal Meditech was changing facilities.
Prestige Biotech never had a license to operate. The California Department of Public Health, which licenses medical facilities, never issued a license for Prestige Biotech.
Zieba believes Prestige came to Reedley in October, though that is difficult to place because she said they had been “operating under the cover of night.”
People had noticed evening and nighttime activity at the long-vacant building, Zieba said. She thinks that because of this, the operators didn’t want to be seen.
“Because they never registered with the city, they never pulled a business license or a permit, we have to believe they didn’t want us to know they were there,” Zieba said.
County Posted Info on Website
Prado said the county did post information on its website in April. While true, the page titled “Reedley Health Office Order – Closure Abatement Order” does not mention the severity of the situation.
Prado said they did not go beyond with its notification because “it didn’t meet an emergency criteria.”
Bredefeld said that during the pandemic, the public health department had weekly, if not more often, news conferences. Prado explained why they didn’t issue a media news release about the lab.
“This situation was contained from when we were involved in there. So as we went through that process, this is nowhere near to what we experienced during COVID, and it was contained through the efforts of city of Reedley, federal, state, and local agencies,” Prado said.
Prado said it was never the intent to keep information from the public. He did say, “There is always an opportunity for us to communicate more.”
Bredefeld Criticizes County Response
Bredefeld, running for the Fresno County Board of Supervisors in 2024, criticized the board he wants to join. He called them cowards.
“This is disgraceful and represents a willful decision to hide from and shirk their duties as elected representatives of guess what? The public. They’re responsible to the public,” Bredefeld said.
Fresno County Supervisor Buddy Mendes, who represents Reedley, said he became aware when Reedley informed the county. Prado said that happened in late March.
“(Bredefeld) needs to look at itself in the mirror because apparently the same company or some offshoot of it started the lab back in Fresno,” Mendes said. “He needs to ask his own code enforcement people what’s going on.”
Bredefeld said the city will be doing its “due diligence with this situation, looking at any relationship that occurred in the city with this lab.”
Mendes said he’s “very, very satisfied” with how the county responded.
Mendes said the public was never in danger. Prado added that the quick action of Reedley’s code enforcement mitigated public harm.
Zieba: ‘Investigation Needed to Be Preserved’
Zieba said the response from Bredefeld “disappoints her greatly.”
“As a public agency, we cannot simply barge our way onto private property, we didn’t even know what we had,” Zieba said.
Investigations take time, Zieba said. Water and air studies showed there was no immediate threat to the public. Once they knew there was no immediate threat to the public, Zieba said the next priority was to “preserve the integrity of the investigation.”
“The community itself is hearing all these stories that are very salacious and getting upset when in fact the city moved at the pace it needed to to make sure that if there is illegal wrongdoing we can prosecute,” Zieba said.