FBI searches Center for COVID Control headquarters amid probes into multimillion-dollar testing business

·4 min read

CHICAGO — The FBI on Saturday searched the headquarters of a nationwide string of coronavirus testing sites known as the Center for COVID Control.

The company and its main lab, which has been reimbursed more than $124 million from the federal government for coronavirus testing, are under investigation by state and federal officials. The company and lab are registered at the same address in Rolling Meadows, Illinois.

"The FBI was conducting court-authorized law enforcement activity in Rolling Meadows yesterday," Siobhan Johnson, a spokesperson for the FBI's Chicago office, told USA TODAY Sunday.

A Center for COVID Control spokesperson said Monday that the company "has been in communication with a number of regulatory and law enforcement agencies regarding the company’s operations" for the "past several weeks."

On Saturday, "federal law enforcement agents executed a search warrant at the company’s main office as part of what appears to be a similar investigation," the spokesperson said in a statement.

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The company intends to "fully cooperate with all government inquiries, and remains committed to providing the best service possible to our patients," according to the statement.

Asked about the law enforcement activity, Annie Thompson, a spokesperson for the Illinois Attorney General's Office, said the attorney general "is absolutely committed to protecting residents from those who attempt to profit off of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic."

"We are working with the FBI and other law enforcement partners and will not comment on ongoing investigations as we work to hold accountable individuals who engage in unlawful conduct," Thompson said.

The City of Worcester, Massachusetts delivered a cease and desist order to a Center for COVID Control pop-up testing site.
The City of Worcester, Massachusetts delivered a cease and desist order to a Center for COVID Control pop-up testing site.

The search comes days after the Minnesota Attorney General's Office filed a consumer protection lawsuit against the company and its primary laboratory, Doctors Clinical Lab. The complaint alleges the company and lab "provide inaccurate and deceptive" test results and have fraudulently reported negative test results.

Longtime entrepreneurs Akbar Syed, 35, and his wife, Aleya Siyaj, 29, run the Center for COVID Control and, in recent months, have been sharing photos and videos on social media of their growing wealth. Syed has shared images of two Lamborghinis, a 2018 Ford GT, a Ferrari Enzo and a new $1.36 million mansion.

At its peak, the Center for COVID Control had more than 300 locations across at least 26 states and collected more than 80,000 tests a day, according to the company.

USA TODAY began investigating the company in early January after a reporter encountered a "pop-up" testing site operating out of a generator-powered shack in Chicago. Since then, dozens of people across at least 18 states have reached out to USA TODAY expressing concerns about the testing sites, and multiple agencies have launched investigations.

The Center for COVID Control is also under investigation by the Illinois Attorney General's Office and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Oregon Department of Justice is investigating the company on suspicion of Unfair Trade Practices Act violations.

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has documented numerous "deficiencies" at the lab, which has been reimbursed through the federal COVID-19 uninsured program, according to public data. Private health insurers also paid the lab.

According to the Minnesota complaint, Center for COVID Control and Doctors Clinical Lab staff "represented to the federal government that Minnesota consumers with private or public insurance were actually uninsured."

The company and lab instructed employees to examine consumers' reported insurance information and to select the appropriate insurance from a drop-down menu with a limited list of companies, including a "default" option of "uninsured," according to the complaint.

The drop-down menu did not contain "most, if not all," Minnesota insurance companies, so the company and lab instructed employees to simply select "uninsured," which the company and lab used to support submitting a claim to the federal government for reimbursement, according to the complaint.

"Defendants, through owner Siyaj, instructed employees to 'streamline' data entry by entering the name of a patient and immediately hit a series of keys that would input defaults for the remaining entries, including defaulting a patient’s insurance information to 'uninsured,'" the complaint says.

If you have more information about the Center for COVID Control or Doctors Clinical Lab, contact reporter Grace Hauck at ghauck@usatoday.com. People can also contact the Minnesota Attorney General's Office at 651-296-3353.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Center for COVID Control Illinois headquarters searched by FBI