A Chicago couple with a record of starting failed businesses found a way to cash in on the coronavirus testing frenzy, collecting $124 million in reimbursements from the federal government since it opened its first site in 2020.
Akbar Ali Syed, 35, and his wife, Aleya Siyaj, 29, founded the Illinois-based Center for Covid Control, which at its peak had more than 300 locations at which some 80,000 tests a day were conducted.
A federal agency has documented numerous “deficiencies” at the company’s main lab, Doctors Clinical Lab.
“CCC was founded to meet a critical market need to establish testing centers where COVID tests could be provided to patients rapidly and safely to minimize delay, and let people get on with their daily activities,” Siyaj said in a statement on Thursday.
A division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is now investigating the operation. The center is also under scrutiny by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Oregon Department of Justice, and multiple state health departments, according to an investigation by USA Today.
But what appears to be the downfall of the couple’s operation did not come from federal investigators but from their social media posts boasting about buying Lamorghinis and a $1.36 million mansion in Illinois.
USA Today reported on the couple’s past business ventures:
In the last five years, Siyaj, his wife, has launched at least six businesses, according to Illinois public records. Siyaj is listed as the owner of O’s Donuts & Cafe Inc, which was incorporated in 2017 and involuntarily dissolved in November 2020, according to Illinois records. The company was licensed in Michigan from 2018 to 2020, according to state records.
Next came axe-throwing: In early 2019, Siyaj established Axe Range, Inc, then, in 2020, Axe Lounge LLC, which was involuntarily dissolved the following year.
From 2020 to 2021, Siyaj established Aenaz LLC, Lom Investments LLC and Testing Solutions, Inc. An Illinois resident listed as the agent for all three businesses is also listed as the agent for Center for COVID Control.
USA Today interviewed a number of people employed by the couple, many of whom said they made good money but revealed major problems. The media outlet reported:
An 81-page report found the lab was in ‘immediate jeopardy.’ Among other concerns, the report found the lab did not ensure all personnel had appropriate training, did not have appropriate equipment, did not comply with state reporting requirements, did not obtain a required state lab license, did not maintain confidentiality of patient information, did not accurately identify patient samples submitted for PCR testing and did not document complaints and problems reported to the lab.
The business has acknowledged that it is under scrutiny. The company said in an internal memo to employees, obtained by USA Today:
Over the last week, we have seen increased scrutiny by the media into the operations of our collection sites. This, coupled with various customer complaints, resulted in various state health departments and even Department of Justice taking a keen interest in our company.
The USA Today report also cited President Joe Biden’s push for testing, which could have promoted these kind of pop up testing sites.
“Just enter ‘COVID test near me’ in the Google search bar and you can find a number of different locations nearby where you can get tested,” Biden said in speech in late December. USA Today reported:
Tens of thousands of Americans did as Biden said. Many stumbled upon listings for Center for COVID Control sites and, with no appointments needed, hopped in line for tests. Business for the company increased, but to such a degree that testing sites became overwhelmed, revealing cracks in the delicate system.
The USA Today report pointed out that Biden’s policies have encouraged these kind of business practices. The American Rescue Plan Act gave $4.8 billion to reimburse providers for testing the uninsured, and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act Relief Fund and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act appropriated $1 billion more.
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