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Feds Indict Illegal Bio-Lab Operator for Misbranded COVID Tests, Lying to Authorities
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By Edward Smith
Published 5 months ago on
November 16, 2023

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A federal grand jury in Fresno returned a three-count indictment on Thursday against Jia Bei Zhu — aka Jesse Zhu, Qiang He, and David He — charging him with distributing altered, misbranded medical devices and making false statements to the Food and Drug Administration.

In addition, Zhu’s attorney, Tony Capozzi, said Thursday that he fears for his client’s safety following the release of a congressional report Wednesday.

“I’m concerned about the congressional report that just came out. He may be in danger at the jail,” Capozzi said.

U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced the charges against Zhu, 62, a citizen of China who formerly resided in Clovis, in a news release.

If convicted, Zhu faces a maximum prison sentence of three years and a $250,000 fine for the adulterated and misbranding of medical devices charges and five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the false statements charge.

Zhu — who is being charged as David He, a matter that will come up in trial, prosecutors say — pleaded not guilty Thursday before Judge Stanley Boone.

Zhu was supposed to have his bond hearing Thursday, but Capozzi said the release of a congressional report Wednesday necessitated that hearing to be delayed. Capozzi said Zhu doesn’t want to return to China and is not a flight risk. He said Zhu has applied for asylum in the U.S.

“I hope to have him released from jail. We have people who will be third-party custodians, we’ll put up some property to make sure he’ll return,” Capozzi said. “And, again, he’s asking for asylum in this country. There’s no reason for him to run away.”

Zhu’s Company Allegedly Sold Hundreds of Thousands of Test Kits Without Authorization

According to court documents, between January 2020 and March 2023, through the companies Universal Meditech Incorporated and Prestige Biotech Incorporated, Zhu sold hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 test kits to companies throughout the United States.

UMI and PBI, which were based in Fresno and Reedley, allegedly didn’t obtain several approvals, emergency use authorization, or other applicable exemptions from the FDA as required.

UMI and PBI received millions of dollars for the sales of the test kits, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Zhu’s Alleged False Statements

When questioned by FDA officials, Zhu made several false statements to them, prosecutors allege. These include:

— His name was Qiang “David” He;
— That he was hired by UMI as a COVID-19 consultant in 2021;
— That he was hired by PBI just a couple of weeks before meeting with the FDA to communicate with government agencies on PBI’s behalf;
— That he didn’t know anything about UMI’s or PBI’s manufacturing or distribution histories.

This case is the product of an investigation by the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations with assistance from the FBI and the California Department of Public Health–Food and Drug Branch.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph D. Barton, Arelis M. Clemente, and Henry Z. Carbajal III are prosecuting this case.

Congressional Report Endangering His Client: Capozzi

On Wednesday, the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party gave the report on its investigation along with Reps. Jim Costa (D-Fresno), and Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield).

The committee reported that Zhu is a wanted fugitive from Canada who has an outstanding $330 million judgment against him for stealing intellectual property.

They also claim Zhu was a top official at a Chinese-state-controlled company and had links to military-civil fusion entities. They also claim he received $2 million while he ran the Fresno and Reedley labs.

Capozzi disputed all those claims, saying the report was rushed and “totally false.” He also worried about Zhu’s safety from other inmates who may think he is a foreign agent.

“This report was done so quickly, it has so many inadequate facts, improper facts in there that I just worry about it hurting him in the jail if someone thinks he may be an agent of a foreign government,” Capozzi said.

Capozzi said his client applied for asylum long before the federal investigation.

(GV Wire News Director Bill McEwen contributed to this story.)

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Edward Smith,
Multimedia Journalist
Edward Smith began reporting for GV Wire in May 2023. His reporting career began at Fresno City College, graduating with an associate degree in journalism. After leaving school he spent the next six years with The Business Journal, doing research for the publication as well as covering the restaurant industry. Soon after, he took on real estate and agriculture beats, winning multiple awards at the local, state and national level. You can contact Edward at 559-440-8372 or at Edward.Smith@gvwire.com.

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