GenPhar founder says burglars were after copper in electrical, plumbing systems in building
MOUNT PLEASANT — Thieves who broke into the unfinished GenPhar building and caused up to $500,000 damage apparently were after copper in the electrical, plumbing and air-conditioning systems, the company’s founder said Wednesday.
What is GenPhar?
GenPhar plans to make vaccines for deadly diseases such as Marburg, Ebola and Dengue fever. It is located behind the Market at Oakland shopping center, where its new three-story building sits unfinished.
“They just cut the copper out. Anything containing pieces of copper,” said Dr. Jian-Yun Dong.
Jian-Yun Dong and his estranged wife Danher Wang are charged in a seven-count indictment with violations of federal campaign laws.
Dong is charged in a 36-count indictment with fraudulent use and conversion of funds received as federal grants.
Dong said he did not know how much copper was stolen, or how much it might be worth.
The break-in and costly damage to the building’s interior is the latest twist to the troubled story of the biotech firm founded to make vaccines for deadly illnesses, such as Ebola, Marburg and Dengue fever.
“This one was kind of strange, kind of shocking,” said Police Sgt. Jennifer Bachman.
“We have absolutely no suspects,” she said.
Police have stepped up their patrols of the area, she said.
There have been no other copper thefts recently, she said.
Dong said he hopes investors will respond and provide funds needed to fix the damage.
The serious vandalism of GenPhar will not stop Dong’s dream of building a company that could create some 300 jobs while manufacturing vaccines that could someday save American troops and the nation from terror attacks, he said.
However, Dong faces serious legal trouble. In two federal indictments, he is alleged to have violated campaign-finance laws and to have fraudulently used federal grants. He is innocent of the charges, he said.
“I don’t believe I have done anything wrong,” he said.
His legal problems were caused by a disgruntled employee who made false claims about GenPhar using fraudulent technology, he said.
A 36-count indictment against Dong is for offenses relating to the fraudulent use and conversion of federal funds. Also, in a seven-count indictment, Dong and his estranged wife, Danher Wang, are charged with violations of federal campaign laws.
“I still believe in our justice system. I still believe in our country,” he said.
During a tour of the building Wednesday, Dong pointed to two expensive-looking bicycles that the burglars left untouched. They gained entrance to the building by drilling holes into a door lock, he said.
“They’re only interested in building materials,” he said of the thieves.
Police discovered the burglary April 23 when they saw a number of items from the building interior outside on the grounds. The items that drew an officer’s attention included two large black condenser units from an air-conditioning system, a large metallic double sink, a garbage disposal and copper tubing.
Inside, police observed damage to the building consistent with the items they saw outside, according to a police report.
Dong said it appeared that the burglars were surprised by police because they left behind a tool box and power tools.
“Mount Pleasant police are doing a good job to keep the area safe,” he said.
GenPhar is located behind the trendy Market at Oakland shopping center. The goal of the company is to make vaccines for the deadly diseases that are tested elsewhere at secure federal facilities. Dong said there is no public health risk from the operation because it is not working with the viruses themselves.
The three-story, $33 million building and its mission still have a future, he said.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said.
Dong said he recently obtained new investors from Hong Kong.
He does not have insurance on the building because the $5,000 monthly premium was too expensive to keep paying when the project stalled.
Dong, 55, said he survived persecution in communist China and spent time in jail in high school for reading anti-government material.
“The company remains innocent of any wrongdoing. Hopefully, we will still get the project going,” he said.