In the midst of surging COVID-19 infections and a nationwide shortage of testing supplies, the Minnesota Attorney General’s office is accusing a St. Charles testing company and its Rolling Meadows laboratory of “deceptive and misleading” practices.
The Minnesota AG’s office filed a lawsuit today against Center for COVID Control and Doctors Clinical Laboratory, accusing the companies of fraud, deception and false advertising.
This comes in the midst of an investigation by NBC 5 Responds and several concurrent state and federal probes - including an open investigation by the Illinois Attorney General’s office and the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services - into the company that has received more than $100 million from taxpayers.
The suit filed in Minnesota lays out several consumer narratives to support the claims brought against the company, including customers who never received COVID-19 Rapid and PCR test results, as well as customers who received results without ever taking a test.
“Numerous Minnesota consumers have not received any test results from Defendants after submitting samples, let alone within the timeframes promised by Defendants,” the lawsuit states. “The reports are often deceptively riddled with inaccurate and false information.”
The lawsuit continues, “Most disturbingly, defendants have sometimes fraudulently represented that Minnesota consumers have tested negative for COVID-19, despite the consumer never having submitted a sample for defendants to be tested.”
A spokesperson for Center for COVID Control and Doctors Clinical Laboratory did not respond to NBC 5’s request for comment on the Minnesota lawsuit.
Last week, Center for COVID Control’s CEO Aleya Siyaj announced a temporary pause of operations at its more than 300 testing site locations in 22 states. The company said it would resume testing this Saturday.
“Regrettably, due to our rapid growth and the unprecedented recent demand for testing, we haven't been able to meet all our commitments,” Siyaj said, adding that the company went from processing “8,000 [tests] per day nationwide, to a dramatic spike of more than 80,000 [tests] per day.”
The company also attributed “customer service challenges” to the rapid spread of the omicron variant.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said on Wednesday the lawsuit marks a step towards making sure the state's consumers have "accurate tools to keep them safe from the COVID-19 pandemic."
“[Consumers] trusted they would get accurate results on time. They didn’t get that,” said Ellison. “We’re holding these companies accountable.”
“It seems like something crooked is going on here.”
The complaints laid out in the Minnesota lawsuit mirror complaints NBC 5 Responds has heard from Chicagoans who were relying on a test from the company last year.
Chicago area resident Robert McNees told NBC 5 Responds that back on Dec. 22, 2021, during the height of the omicron surge, he, his wife and daughter went to a Center for COVID Control testing site on North Howard Street to find out if they were infected.
McNees said the family filled out an application for a test, but eventually decided to find a test elsewhere, leaving the testing site without handing over a single swab.
But five hours later, McNees said he received testing results by email, indicating his whole family tested negative.
“We were surprised and we weren't sure what to make of it,” McNees said.
The Illinois Attorney General’s office told NBC 5 Responds it has opened an investigation into the company after receiving consumer complaints about its business practices.
One individual’s complaint in particular - obtained by NBC 5 Responds through a Freedom of Information Act request - centers around how the company was paid for its tests.
The person, whose name was redacted by the Attorney General’s office, wrote that back in Sept. 2021 they had visited the same North Howard Street testing site as the McNees family, and were put off by the way it was operating.
“I asked why the form I filled out was asking for my insurance and why they wouldn’t use my insurance, and the person said [Center for COVID Control would] just bill the government, not insurance,” the complaint reads.
“It seems like something crooked is going on here,” the person wrote.
Minnesota’s Attorney General said in its lawsuit that investigators found Center for COVID Control’s internal systems did not contain most Minnesota insurance companies when processing the payment for customers’ “free” COVID tests.
“Defendants [Center for COVID Control] instructed their employees in such cases to simply select ‘uninsured,’ which Defendants used to support submitting a claim to the federal government for reimbursement,” the lawsuit reads.
And the company’s laboratory submitted claims totaling millions, NBC 5 Responds found.
Data published by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration shows that taxpayers were billed for more than $113 million at Doctors Clinical Laboratory’s Rolling Meadows location for COVID tests for the uninsured.
The lab also billed the federal government $1.3 million for a Chicago location but it is unclear what location this amount was referring to.
NBC 5 Responds asked the federal agencies responsible for those payments if the company will continue to receive federal funds given the allegations against it, but they did not respond to our inquiries by an evening deadline.
The company’s Illinois business license lists Center for COVID Control’s CEO Aleya Siyaj’s St. Charles home as its principal office.
But Kane County housing records also show that Siyaj purchased a separate St. Charles mansion in December just a few miles away from the home that is listed as the company’s office.
Realtor.com indicates that the second home sold for $1.3 million.