Owners of a controversial Fresno medical lab whose assets were found to be illegally stored at a Reedley warehouse and then destroyed have filed a claim for $50 million.
Universal Meditech, Inc. filed claims Friday against Fresno County and Monday against the city of Reedley. The company’s biological materials, which included 20 different diseases and nearly 1,000 lab mice, had been uncovered in Reedley.
On Friday attorneys for the city of Reedley had sent a bill for $310,000 to representatives of UMI and Prestige Biotech — the company that inherited UMI’s assets — seeking reimbursement for the cost to destroy the biological materials.
Reedley officials received a claim for $30 million, City Manager Nicole Zieba said.
Zieba believes that amount is a typo, as the claim cites losses totaling $50 million.
Reedley City Councilmembers and Fresno County Board of Supervisors will have to decide whether to reject the claims. If that happens, the company can then file a lawsuit seeking damages.
Attorney Stephen Thomas with Thomas Business Law Group P.C. in the City of Industry filed the claim on behalf of Universal Meditech.
Thomas wrote in the complaint that the biological materials destroyed were extremely valuable, that the company had received all necessary inspections, and that claims it was storing infectious diseases were false.
“The UMI company had sent emails to inform all executives of the department many times, and filed an appeal with the local municipal government, trying its best to inform them that the value of the assets planned to be destroyed is extremely huge, and not only have no Infection (sic) agents that endangers public health, but also many of these biological assets are non-reproducible,” the complaint stated.
Attorney Calls Claims of Viruses a ‘Lie’
Thomas said the warrant Fresno County used to destroy UMI’s assets was based on a lie.
“The Fresno County Public Health Department applied to the court for a warrant on June 26 on the grounds that the fabricated 850 temporary warehouse contained a large number of viruses and bacteria that seriously endangered public health. That was a lie,” the claim stated.
Zieba said she chuckled at that allegation. Inspectors from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came to the warehouse to inspect and identify materials.
“Are they calling the CDC liars?” she said. “Because the CDC’s own experts were on site going through the fridges and the freezers and documented in a report that then went back to the judge and has now been obviously well publicized.”
Sonja Dosti, spokeswoman for the county of Fresno, said health officials followed all necessary procedures in destroying UMI’s assets.
“The county believes there is no merit to the claim. The abatement by the County and City has been conducted according to court order and all applicable legal processes,” Dosti said.
Reedley ‘Won’t Back Down’ From Pursuing Abatement Costs
Zieba did not want to speculate on whether the claim came in response to the city’s invoice. But she said Reedley “wouldn’t back down” from pursuing the money. If the invoice goes unpaid the city could file a tax lien on the property.
“If these claims were an effort to intimidate the little city of Reedley, the city of Reedley is not going to be intimidated,” she said. “So we will pursue our cost recovery to the fullest extent.”
Zieba said she continues to hear from residents worried about whether their health was at risk by the presence of the biological materials.
“You know, this company needs to be held accountable for what it has done to our community,” she said.