California Attorney General Rob Bonta said Tuesday in Fresno he’s aware of the Chinese-owned Reedley biological lab that has since been shut down. He said a criminal investigation is a possibility.
“I’m familiar with it, of course, and we’re monitoring it and in contact and in communication with some of our partners. This is an incident that has drawn the attention and participation of multiple levels of government,” Bonta said.
He said any investigation from his office is in “the early stages.”
“I think it’s still emerging at this point. So as we learn more, we’ll be able to get our arms around the fact to determine if there’s any criminal violation,” Bonta said.
Bonta spoke to the news media Tuesday at Fresno City Hall on several topics, including the Reedley lab. Investigators found 1,000 mice — genetically engineered with COVID — in the lab, operated by a Chinese company, Prestige Biotech. Before its discovery in Reedley, the lab — owned previously by Universal Meditech, Inc., another China-linked company — operated in Fresno and Tulare County.
Although the Reedley lab was the only such operation Bonta was aware of, he said there are likely more that exist or existed.
Congressional Inquiry Ongoing
Last week, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic issued requests for documents and information with the FBI and Health and Human Services regarding their investigation of the Reedley lab.
The subcommittee, part of the House Oversight Committee, gave a Sept. 6 deadline.
“Reports of unlicensed operations at a research facility in Fresno County, California are deeply concerning, and we appreciate law enforcement’s ongoing investigation into this matter. Enhancing our nation’s biosecurity is a top priority and remains a central focus of Select Subcommittee Democrats’ work to prevent and prepare for the next pandemic,” ranking member Raul Ruiz, D-Indio, told GV Wire.
Both Bonta and Fresno City Attorney Andrew Janz said they would comply if asked for information from the subcommittee.
Fresno Councilman Keep Talking to Media About Lab
For the third time in a week, Fresno City Councilmen Garry Bredefeld and Miguel Arias held a news conference about the Reedley lab issue. They released several emails from the city’s code enforcement investigation from 2020-22.
When the lab operated in Fresno, a fire broke out in August 2020. Both the fire department and code enforcement investigated, but not much happened because of the pandemic.
The emails, mainly from November 2022, showed several concerns from city officials about dangerous chemicals stored at the facility. They alerted Fresno County and state officials as well.
Last week, the city council passed an ordinance requiring increased scrutiny for new biological labs that want to open in Fresno.
Both Bredefeld and Arias are running for Fresno County Board of Supervisors — in separate districts against incumbents. Just as they have in the past, the councilmen accused current supervisors of not being forthcoming and transparent with the public.
In the past, Bredefeld has called Arias corrupt. Asked about their unusual alliance, both found a way to blame their county counterparts.
“The distinction between us and the Board of Supervisors is when something goes wrong in the Board of Supervisors, they tend to rally around each other and cover everything up and say there’s no story here and release little to no information,” Arias said.
Arias cited Bredefeld calling for an investigation into city council credit card spending as an example of the city holding itself accountable. While the city council approved an expanded audit in a March 2022 7-0 vote, it initially balked at the request and eventually made Bredefeld’s office pay for it.
Arias says the city council is “not afraid” to answer questions from the media, or the public.
While they might not always agree on all issues, the two council members are united in trying to ferret out the truth about the lab, Bredefeld said.
“Councilman Arias and I, everyone practically on that city council are very passionate people, as you might have guessed. And we disagree. We disagree very strongly at times. We also agree very strongly at times. We are certainly in sync with an illegal Chinese lab that showed up in Reedley, that was in Tulare, that was in Fresno. And the public had a right to know that this lab was going on,” Bredefeld said.