Center for COVID Control facing lawsuit alleging widespread coronavirus testing scheme

Ex-employees say unprocessed COVID tests piled up in garbage bags

ByLiz Stark, CNN, CNNWire
Saturday, January 22, 2022
Chicago area COVID testing company sued over alleged scheme
The Center for COVID Control is facing a fraud lawsuit filed by Minnesota's attorney general alleging a widespread COVID testing scheme.

CHICAGO -- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is investigating "numerous complaints" about labs and testing sites associated with the Center for COVID Control, the agency confirmed to CNN Friday.

"We take seriously any allegations of fraud or misbehavior by COVID-19 testing sites. CMS's Center for Clinical Standards and Quality investigates these kinds of complaints and is aware of several alleged instances of misconduct by this company's labs," said Dr. Lee Fleisher, chief medical officer and director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality for CMS, in a statement.

On Wednesday, Minnesota's attorney general sued CCC and its associated clinical lab, claiming they failed to deliver COVID-19 test results or delivered untimely or falsified test results.

The lawsuit filed by Keith Ellison in Hennepin County district court says the Minnesota Department of Health got complaints after people were tested for COVID-19 at pop-up testing sites around the state operated by CCC.

CCC has not responded to a CNN request for comment.

"CMS is actively investigating numerous complaints about multiple laboratories and testing sites associated with the Center for COVID Control," Fleisher said, adding CMS "continues our investigations and will take compliance and enforcement actions as appropriate."

MORE: Website for free COVID test kits is here. How does it work, and how many can I order?

The Biden administration is working to make COVID-19 rapid test kits more available and accessible to Americans as case numbers soar.

Michael Pino, a former Center for COVID Control employee, told the I-Team at our sister station WLS that many tests that arrived for processing 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," he said.

"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," he added.

Pino, who worked at CCC headquarters from September until late December, said 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," he said.

"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," former Center for COVID Control employee Tina Morales also told WLS.

CMS conducted on-site complaint surveys at multiple testing sites and the main lab used by CCC -- the Doctors Clinical Laboratory -- in November and December, according to a CMS spokesperson.

"CMS identified non-compliance and is waiting on an allegation of compliance from the laboratory to address the deficiencies cited," the CMS spokesperson said.

CCC announced last week it would pause operations from January 14 to 22 because "unusually high patient demand has stressed staffing resources, as has been widely reported, in a subset of our locations, affecting our usual customer service standards and diagnostic goals."

"Center for COVID Control is committed to serving our patients in the safest, most accurate and most compliant manner," CCC founder and CEO Aleya Siyaj said in the announcement. "Regrettably, due to our rapid growth and the unprecedented recent demand for testing, we haven't been able to meet all our commitments."

On Thursday, CCC announced on its website all locations are closed until further notice.

The pause in operations will be used "to train additional staff on sample collection and handling, customer service and communications best practices, as well as compliance with regulatory guidelines," according to the Center.

The-CNN-Wire & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

ABC Owned TV Stations contributed to this report.