OAKLAND, Calif. - Inaccurate results. Phony dates. Bogus promises. Those are the accusations against a COVID-19 testing company and partnering laboratory under investigation or sued by several states’ attorneys general.
Center for Covid Control and Doctors Clinical Laboratory, headquartered in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, had bags of bio-waste and boxes of PCR tests from across the country sitting unrefrigerated and piling up amid the holidays, according to former employees.
"They were completely not cold, they were not stored properly, they were not even labeled properly," said ex-employee Michael Pino. "There were bags and bags of tests everywhere."
Bags of bio-waste taken by a Center for Covid Control employee who said tests were piling up inside the company's main offices outside of Chicago. (KTVU FOX 2)
Center for Covid Control advertised 300 locations, including in California and four in the Bay Area, until the company announced an abrupt "pause" in early January. They’ve since all been shut down "indefinitely," according to the company’s website.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced an investigation into customer complaints over missing test results and concerns about their accuracy.
Earlier this month, Bonta sent a letter demanding Center for Covid Control provide evidence the company is in compliance with the state’s lab licensing and testing requirements.
Former employees tell KTVU they were forced to fake dates, lie or send out false, sometimes weeks-old test results.
"I was horrified…changing collection test dates for people," ex-employee Shayna Lange said. "We were not registered with the state [California] to process any tests."
Center of Covid Control employees say boxes of PCR tests stacked up inside the company's Rolling Meadows, Illinois headquarters going unrefrigerated or unprocessed, sometimes for weeks. (KTVU FOX 2)
Lange estimates nearly 10,000 samples were delivered to main offices each day as more and more customer complaints came in after the holidays with unprecedented demand for tests and climbing cases.
Pino said the company’s partnering lab, Doctors Clinical Laboratory, is nothing more than a front with swabs coming to the same office building where he said proper handling wasn’t happening.
"It got to the point where it got chaotic," said Pino. "We didn’t have enough supplies to do our job. We didn’t have enough masks or gloves and nobody seemed to care."
Despite repeated attempts, the owners did not respond to KTVU’s requests for comment.
Last month, the Washington State Attorney General sued claiming deceptive or unlawful practices and calling the sites "sham testing centers" that couldn’t keep up with demand.
Among the allegations in the lawsuit, employees were instructed to mark customers as ‘uninsured’ even if they weren’t all while billing the federal government for those tests.
Federal data shows Doctors Clinical Laboratory has received more than $140 million in testing reimbursements.
"They took advantage of that by expanding even though they knew we were already drowning," Lange said.
And neither does Center for Covid Control, which is required of any place that tests specimens originating in California.
CDPH confirmed it is investigating both businesses, too.
Some customers said they were surprised to find pop-up centers across the country closed in early January.
Center for Covid Control posted a press release to its website calling the closures a "pause to train additional staff on sample collection and handling, customer service and communications best practices, as well as compliance with regulatory guidelines."
Late last year, federal inspectors found and documented failures surrounding samples and storage.
Since then, the FBI has served a search warrant at the companies’ main offices.
And Minnesota’s Attorney General also filed a lawsuit for failing to report results, including to the state.
Workers admit even they didn’t know what was what and admit many customers received false negatives.
"I thought we were just in over our heads," said Pino. "There was no coming back at that point."