FBI Cracks Down on Organizations Accused of Cashing In on the Pandemic
WASHINGTON — The FBI is investigating an Illinois company that has received $124 million from the federal government for COVID-19 testing after reports the owners were using part of the money for lavish lifestyles.
FBI agents raided the headquarters in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, Saturday. It opened in 2020 and now runs more than 300 pop-up testing sites nationwide.
The Center for COVID Control is run by Akbar Syed, 35, and his wife, Aleya Siyaj, 29, who in recent months have shared images and videos of their growing wealth on social media. Syed’s postings show his new $1.36 million home, two Lamborghinis and a Ferrari Enzo.
The FBI investigation adds to legal problems for the center that started days ago when the Minnesota attorney general filed a consumer protection lawsuit against the company.
It accuses the owners and their lab, Doctors Clinical Lab, of reporting “inaccurate and deceptive” test results. Some of the results incorrectly showed patients tested negative for coronavirus when they actually might have been infected, the lawsuit says.
Minnesota inspectors said former employees reported being told by supervisors to lie to patients about their results and to falsify the dates they received samples that needed testing when some were more than two days old.
Company officials said they have retrained their staff on sample collection and handling, regulatory compliance and customer service. They have not commented on specifics of the FBI investigation.
The investigation of the Center for COVID Control is one of several recent law enforcement actions against organizations and individuals accused of trying to profit off the pandemic.
This month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published an alert about coronavirus fraud scams.
Fraudsters have been caught using telemarketing calls, text messages, social media and door-to-door visits to deceive their victims, the agency reported. Typically they offer COVID-19 tests, federal grants and Medicare prescription cards to get personal information from consumers.
They then use the information to bill federal health care programs or for identity theft, the agency’s release said.
In another case this month, the FBI is investigating a nonprofit organization called Feeding Our Future that received federal funds to distribute food to children whose families were forced to rely on public assistance during the pandemic.
“Almost none of this money was used to feed children,” says an FBI affidavit used for the investigation. “Instead, the participants in the scheme misappropriated the money and used it to purchase real estate, cars, and other luxury items. To date, the conspirators have stolen millions of dollars in federal funds. The scheme is ongoing.”
The money given to Minnesota-based Feeding Our Future is part of a nationwide program run by the Department of Education to reimburse nonprofits and other organizations that provide meals for children.
In its grant application, the nonprofit claimed to enter into contracts with community sponsors at sites it sponsored to provide the meals, according to court documents. By the end of last year, it reportedly received about $197 million in government grant money.
A growing number of other pandemic fraud allegations are lodged against individuals, including a recent high-profile prosecution of professional football players.
Former professional Washington football running back Clinton Portis is spending the next six months in federal prison and six more in home confinement after being sentenced this month in a health care scam.
He admitted receiving nearly $100,000 after filing false medical claims.
Portis was one of nine retired National Football League players the Justice Department charged in December 2019 with filing false claims with the Gene Upshaw National Football League Health Reimbursement Account Plan. The plan was designed to care for former NFL players who are sick or infirm.
Together the nine players filed $3.9 million in false claims, according to the Justice Department. The health plan paid $3.4 million of the claims.
Tom can be reached at [email protected]