A suspect in the alleged illegal Reedley biolab pled not guilty in a Fresno federal court Tuesday afternoon.
Through his attorney, noted defender Tony Capozzi, David He entered not guilty pleas to two counts — misbranded medical devices and making false statements to federal authorities.
Federal, state, and local officials shut down the lab in March, deeming it to be operating without proper licensing. The companies behind the lab made test kits for COVID-19, pregnancy, and other diseases. Thousands of lab mice were discovered and eventually destroyed.
Court documents initially identified He as Jia Bei Zhu, and he was referred as such by U.S. Magistrate Judge Erica Grosjean. Capozzi asked the judge to make a true name finding of He — one of his aliases listed in arrest documents — and she complied.
He appeared in person in court, sitting in the front row of the jury box. He wore a red jail jumpsuit and had a listening device to hear an interpreter. He did not show any reaction to the proceedings.
Grosjean set the next court date for Nov. 8, for both a preliminary hearing and a detention hearing. He will remain in custody until then.
Capozzi said pretrial services had not yet interviewed He to determine if he is a flight risk or a danger to the community.
Prosecutor Joseph Barton with the U.S. Attorney’s Office had no comment.
Reedley bio lab suspect David He pleads not guilty in federal court. Defense attorney Tony Capozzi talked afterward. pic.twitter.com/oX5s72Yv8E
— David Taub (@TaubGVWire) October 24, 2023
Attorney Defends Lab Work
“The research he’s been working on will be very helpful to, I can’t get into specifics, but be very helpful to mankind.” — Defense attorney Tony Capozzi
Capozzi said his client conducted research at the Reedley biolab.
“The government came in and seized all the research that he had, and destroyed it. The research he’s been working on will be very helpful, I can’t get into specifics, but be very helpful to mankind. I can tell you that this research is something that’s new and revolutionary and (he) has been doing very well with that,” Capozzi said.
He was arrested by Food and Drug Administration authorities in a sting operation in Reedley on Oct. 19.
He is not a flight risk, Capozzi said.
“He’s the meekest person who’s very intelligent. He has an M.D. degree from China. He has a master’s degree beyond medical school. He went on to get an additional degree in research because he wanted to research DNA, embryos, things of that nature, stem cell research,” Capozzi said.
He was living in Las Vegas at the time of his arrest and returned to Reedley for what he believed to be a meeting with city manager Nicole Zieba about the building lease. It turned out it was an FDA sting operation.
“He was surprised. He had no idea,” Capozzi said.
Capozzi also downplayed the national political implications of the case. At least two congressional committees say they will investigate.
“Way out of context. It is political jargon. They are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill,” Capozzi said. “It is nothing as the government has portrayed.”
Capozzi Questions Resisting Arrest Allegations
In his first court appearance last Friday, He appeared with bandages on his nose and forehead. A Department of Justice official said He resisted arrest. Capozzi had doubts.
“I questioned whether he understood what the agents were telling him. From what I understand, he was told to turn around and told to put his hands up. He sort of did that. The agents in their reports said he was confused and didn’t comply with everything they said. So they came in and tried to grab his hands and pushed him down to the ground, face-first into the ground,” Capozzi said.
Although he wasn’t wearing bandages on Tuesday, Capozzi said his client is still suffering from the injuries.
There is a possibility that He could be deported if convicted, Capozzi said.
Capozzi said he came to defend He after being contacted by the suspect’s Southern California civil attorney. As a Chinese citizen, He is allowed to contact the Chinese consulate — its office is in San Francisco. Capozzi said the Chinese government has not been involved.