LA Sheriff Refuses County's COVID Testing Over Alleged China Connection to Test Provider

A letter sent Monday by LA County Sheriff Alex Villaneuva stating his department would not be using the county's coronavirus testing provider due to its alleged ties to the Chinese government was not intended for public circulation.

This, according to a statement to Newsweek Tuesday from the LA County Sheriff's Department regarding the letter addressed to the LA Board of Supervisors with the headline: Compromised Fulgent Registration/Testing System.

In the letter, Villaneuva insisted that his department would not be participating in COVID-19 registering or testing with Fulgent Genetics Corporation because the DNA data obtained by the technology company, he claimed, "is not guaranteed to be safe and secure from foreign governments and 'will likely be shared with the Republic of China'."

Headquartered in Temple City, California, Fulgent Genetics is the developer of a proprietary technology platform and offers genetic testing.

Villanueva said that he was contacted on November 24 by the FBI's Weapons of Mass Destruction coordinator briefing county leaders on "very concerning information" they had obtained regarding COVID-19 testing of employees.

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks at the graduation ceremony for Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Academy Class 451 at East Los Angeles College, on August 21, 2020, in Monterey Park, California. Mario Tama/Getty

He also attended a briefing on November 26 at the FBI's Los Angeles field office along with LA County Attorney Rodrigo A. Castro-Silva and CEO Fesia Davenport. The purpose of the meeting was to inform county leaders about the "serious risks" associated with using Fulgent. Villaneuva noted the invitation was also extended to the Board of Supervisors and the head of the Department of Health.

Responding to a request for comment, the LA County Sheriff's Department on Tuesday told Newsweek via email: "The letter was not intended for public dissemination at this time and it would be premature for the Sheriff's Department to comment further until the Board of Supervisors has had an opportunity to respond."

Newsweek reached out to LA County Supervisors Sheila Kuehl, Holly Mitchell, Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger for comment. According to a spokesperson for Kuehl, all the LA County supervisors were attending their weekly Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.

Newsweek also reached out to the FBI's Los Angeles press office. Laura Eimiller, its media coordinator, said there has been no comment on the sheriff's letter and noted it is not uncommon for the agency to provide briefings to law enforcement partners.

Fulgent Genetics was also awarded a contract to support the New York City Department of Education and NYC Health + Hospitals for COVID-19 testing through the remainder of the 2021 school year, according to its website.

Villaneuva said in his letter he was shocked to learn Fulgent had ties to other sequencing technology linked to the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences.

In August, the LA County Board of Supervisors ratified an emergency order mandating that country employees provide proof of full vaccination for COVID-19 with the possibility of exemptions and testing for some employees. They must register their vaccination status with Fulgent.

The Los Angeles Sheriff's Professional Association, with some 1,700 sworn members, wound up suing the department over the registration mandate on the grounds they were unlawfully being forced to turn over confidential medical information.