By Cassidy Morrison Senior Health Reporter for Dailymail.Com
Updated: 19.50 01 August 2023
- The laboratory has connections to China, but the people behind it have not been forthcoming
- Mice were kept in poor conditions and viruses such as malaria were poorly stored
- READ MORE: Nondescript California warehouse turns out to be an illegal virus lab
These are the shocking photos taken by investigators during the bust of an illegal bio lab in a sleepy California town.
Local and federal officials discovered a laboratory of horrors with suspicious links to China when in March they raided the modest warehouse in Reedley – home to just over 25,000 residents.
Photos obtained by DailyMail.com via court documents show dead mice stuffed into storage bins, haphazardly shoved onto shelves and freezers filled to the brim with vials of blood and plasma of unknown origin.
The images also show stacks of boxes containing dangerous pathogens, including one labeled ‘malaria’ which had Chinese etchings on it. Other infectious agents discovered during the bust include Covid-19, tuberculosis, HIV, herpes and dengue fever.
Unanswered questions remain about the lab’s origins, who ran it, and whether it posed a bioterrorist threat.
The images were included in unsealed court documents obtained by DailyMail.com after the first bust of the lab made headlines at the weekend.
The black market lab was brought to official attention in early March when a code enforcement officer driving down the street noticed a garden hose sticking out of a building where it shouldn’t have been.
That lucky catch sparked a combined state, local and federal investigation the likes of which Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba had never seen before.
Mrs. Zieba said: ‘This is an unusual situation. I have been in government for 25 years. I have never seen anything like that.’
A warrant issued shortly after the official came across the violation of the code allowed those in the government to search the nondescript building, where they were shocked by what they found.
In early March, investigators discovered that a small room with nearly 1,000 white mice was crowded into storage containers under bright light 24 hours a day, seven days a week in an airless room on perpetually dirty bedding. By the time investigators found them, hundreds were already dead.
A wide variety of vials containing biomaterials, including blood and tissue, as well as many other unlabeled chemicals.
Some were found to contain chlamydia, E. coli, streptococcal pneumonia, hepatitis B and C, herpes 1 and 5, rubella and malaria.
More than 5,000 liters of biological waste has been removed from the site over three separate trips.
The discovery of dangerous pathogens will raise serious concerns about the kind of experiments being conducted there.
Reedley city officials, along with Fresno County and staff from the Centers for Disease Control, have said the stored viruses and bacteria were properly disposed of and the distressed mice humanely euthanized.
Code enforcer Jesalyn Harper said: ‘There are rules and standards for keeping mice.
‘You do not meet these standards at the state or local level. You have yet to provide us with the UMI procedures that can outline your care plan for these mice.’
County officials also brought in a veterinarian to assess the mice’s health and concluded that ‘there is great concern about the way the mice are being kept and cared for.’
And the water supply to the building had been shut off, leaving few if any sources of drinking water for the mice.
In May, CDC personnel found hundreds of vials of infectious viruses and bacteria in the lab.
Despite what they found, a representative of the company behind the lab named David He reportedly disputed with Fresno County officials ‘that infectious agents were being kept on the property.’
An official added in a request for a warrant to enter and dispose of the laboratory’s contents: ‘On 8 June 2023 I responded to David He’s email of 7 June 2023 and provided a list of all identified infectious substances found on the property.
“Mr. He’s alleged lack of knowledge about infectious substances at the property raises serious concerns with the lack of safety protocols and guidelines of Prestige Biotech and other business entities handling these infectious substances as a serious threat to public health and safety.”
For example, court documents say a mosquito could feed on samples of malaria-prone tissue or blood stored on the property and become a disease vector to spread the disease in humans.
Sir. He also rejected all arguments that the storage posed a threat to public health and admitted to only having samples of E. Coli and nothing else.
And county officials were initially skeptical of Mr. He’s legitimate affiliation with Prestige Biotech, noting that he provided no satisfactory documentation to the county’s public health department that he was an authorized agent for the company or its predecessor, Universal Meditech Inc. For now, the forces behind the laboratory remain shrouded in mystery.
The county official said: ‘Fresno County Public Health staff have made repeated attempts to request the identities and contact information of the principals and/or authorized agents of Prestige Biotech and UMI. These attempts have so far been unsuccessful.’
Sir. He also offered information that county officials claim ‘failed to communicate and identify a representative of Prestige Biotech or UMI authorized to do business in California.’ For example, Xiaoxiao Wang was named as the agent from UMI who assumed financial responsibility for the company in Reedley, and the address given was in Fresno.
But that address ended up being the same address where UMI operated its previously unlicensed lab before hastily transferring all biological material, equipment and mice to the Reedley facility after the property owner threatened eviction.
And while the exact origin of the lab remains unknown, county officials noted that the other addresses listed were empty offices in China or other addresses in that country that could not be verified.
The story began with an official walking by the modest warehouse on I Street in Reedley and seeing a garden hose sticking out of the building where it shouldn’t have been.
The eagle-eyed code enforcer set off a domino effect of shocking revelations about the operation there.
In March earlier this year, among hundreds of vials of dangerous viruses and bacteria along with shelves of dead and distressed mice lacking food and water, investigators also found over 30 freezers containing biological materials, some of which had either stopped working or failed due to an insufficient power supply.
Currently, the investigation of the origin of the laboratory is underway. While biological materials have been removed, power to the facility has been shut off, and lab workers cleared out, the sloppy equipment remains.
Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba told reporters: ‘There are no more biologicals. There are no more mice, but they will still see us get rid of 30 freezers and refrigerators, medical equipment and all kinds of furniture in there. They will still see some activity, nothing dangerous at this point.
“Some of our federal partners still have active investigations going on, I can only speak to the construction side of it.”