Ex-employees say unprocessed COVID tests piled up in garbage bags
CHICAGO (WLS) -- There are new charges against a northwest suburban company that has been operating hundreds of "pop-up" COVID testing sites.
Investigators are describing these as storefront scams. The company is headquartered in Rolling Meadows and is now accused in a civil suit of false, deceptive and fraudulent conduct in COVID testing clinics at hundreds of locations in metro Chicago and the Midwest.
From social media pitches, to pop-ups in strip malls, the Center for COVID Control (CCC) is facing a fraud lawsuit filed by Minnesota's attorney general.
"These entities collected samples from Minnesotans for COVID 19 testing but either failed to deliver test results or delivered test results that were false or inaccurate," said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.
"Well, they would either not process the test in time so that it couldn't get released in time, or they would have lost the actual result to the test, or they would have never even processed the test," former Center for COVID Control employee Michael Pino told the I-Team.
Pino says while he worked at CCC headquarters from September until late December, so many tests were coming in for processing that they were stored in garbage bags.
"They came in these trash bags and we counted them on the floor of an office building, like where the computers are set up and everything. So we kind of had to scramble around and find a good place to count in that area. The first couple bags I counted right on the floor next to the computer," said Pino.
Pino says he was instructed to lie to customers about the their test results. "I was told to make up whatever I had to, to make them happy and be nice about it."
"The dates were absolutely getting changed. If your test was getting late, nine times out of 10 we were probably changing your date to the date your test was taken, instead of the date your test was actually being processed," said former Center for COVID Control employee Tina Morales.
Minnesota authorities say stories like that are part of their case.
"Increasing sample collection at their location in Illinois led to a chaotic scene where they were unable to store all of the sample that were coming in. They were talking about 8-10 thousand samples arriving daily for a maximum of 2 refrigerators," said Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Noah Lewellen.
We have not heard from the company owners, Aleya Siyaj and Akbar Ali Syed. They live in St. Charles. But swabbing locations, including some that are little more than converted trailers, have been "paused" as they call it, for the past few days. According to a statement, high demand for service has stressed out staffing. The owners said additional training would be underway, but now with government action against them, there has been no word on reopening.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul says his office is also investigating complaints against the Center for COVID Control.
Full Statement from Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul:
We have opened an investigation into the Center for COVID Control and will follow evidence and tips where they lead. Our understanding is that at this time, the company has voluntarily suspended its operation. In the meantime, we have contacted the company to demand that it immediately stop engaging in any deceptive or fraudulent conduct relating to impermissible charges or when testing results will be received, and to confirm that it is in compliance with state law. It is important to note that pop-up testing locations are not currently regulated by a government agency, and we are investigating to determine whether there is a violation of Illinois law. While we are committed to conducting our investigation as efficiently as possible, our first priority is a thorough investigation that will result in an outcome that best protects Illinois residents.