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Jailed Reedley Biolab Owner Sues City of Reedley, Federal Agents
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By Edward Smith
Published 3 weeks ago on
July 1, 2024

Attorneys for Universal Meditech, Inc.'s CEO Jia Bei Zhu sued the city of Reedley for the destruction of the company's assets which include biological materials and 1,000 laboratory mice. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)

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The jailed operator of a controversial biolab in Reedley has now positioned himself on the other side of the legal system. He has sued the city of Reedley and federal agents for allegedly destroying equipment, ruining his business reputation, and excessive force.

The city of Reedley last week received a summons brought by Universal Meditech, Inc. and its president Jia Bei Zhu.

The damages sought in Zhu’s lawsuit are unspecified.

The pregnancy and COVID test company made national news in 2023 when Reedley officials uncovered a warehouse with deadly diseases and nearly 1,000 laboratory mice.

In October 2023, federal officials arrested Zhu, who also goes by David He, for making faulty medical devices and lying to the Food and Drug Administration.

Zhu’s attorneys say the Reedley facility was nothing more than a warehouse and that “there was never any indication of any threat to public health and safety,” the lawsuit stated.

“UMI was deprived of millions of dollars of property without lawful justification, as a result of the seizure and destruction of its assets, including extremely valuable, genetically engineering laboratory mice not subject to duplication,” the lawsuit stated.

City Manager Says Seizure Was to Protect Public Health

The lawsuit also alleges that the political response to discovery of the facility was based on “xenophobia, discrimination, ignorance, and the motivations of public officials seeking to capitalize on those sentiments.”

Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba said she was “disappointed” to hear that attorneys say action against the lab was based on xenophobia. She called accusations of discrimination “misplaced.”

“What I cared about is I had dangerous, deadly diseases in a warehouse with no permits, poorly rewired electrical,” Zieba said. “I could care less about the nationality. I care about my public’s health and safety.”

Pictures show laboratory mice found at a Reedley biolab. (City of Reedley)

Multimillion Dollar Operation Turned into a ‘Worthless Pariah’: Lawsuit

The city of Reedley became aware of the lab in late 2022 after code enforcement noticed a garden hose sticking out of a building.

After securing a warrant to investigate, Reedley and county officials found deadly diseases including malaria, HIV, COVID-19, and chlamydia. A sticky note with the word “Ebola” was also adhered to a freezer, but a lot of material was destroyed before it could be tested, according to a congressional report.

The FBI, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the FDA also became involved in the investigation.

The lawsuit filed on Zhu’s behalf by Fresno attorney Kevin Little said that throughout the investigation, Zhu and other management of Universal Meditech had been cooperative.

In addition, the lawsuit contended that the Reedley facility was nothing more than a warehouse and that it never operated as a laboratory.

News of the lab brought outcry from local elected officials to U.S. congressmembers.

The lawsuit states that UMI’s ownership is based in the People’s Republic of China.

“These accusations have done irreparable damage to UMI’s business interests and turned a multimillion-dollar operation into a worthless pariah,” the lawsuit states.

Excessive Force by Federal Agents

A sting operation led to the arrest of Zhu in October 2023. The lawsuit states that federal agents used excessive force when arresting him.

Pictures of Zhu in the hospital after his arrest with cuts to his face. (FDA)

Zhu appeared in court with bandages on his face.

The lawsuit described the arrest as “intentional, wanton, malicious, oppressive, and undertaken with reckless disregard.”

Zhu is being held in a federal facility, according to Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba. He has a case status conference scheduled for Aug. 14.

Reedley City Manager ‘Chuckled a Little’ at the Lawsuit

Zieba said she “chuckled a little bit” when she received the summons. Shortly before his arrest, Zhu’s attorneys filed a claim against Reedley for $50 million, laying out his claim that the company’s equipment, biological material, and valuable mice were destroyed without due process.

Filing a claim is the first step to a lawsuit, Zieba said.

Zieba said she is confident about Reedley’s case as they secured warrants for all abatement actions.

“The public can go on to the Fresno County court website and see all those documents,” Zieba said. “They can see our evidence and our pictures, our reports, and so obviously, we think we have a very good defense against this lawsuit.”

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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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