How a wedding photographer and a failed donut shop owner got $124M in federal cash for COVID testing

A Ford GT is shown in a "Helpful Car Tips" video outside a home in Saint Charles, Illinois.

It was a Toyota pickup.

Then, a blue car.

At the end of August last year, Illinois resident Akbar Ali Syed posted a TikTok video of a red Lamborghini Countach being unloaded from a flatbed truck.

Syed added the tag "#entrepreneur" in the caption.

A user asked, "Oil money?"

No, Syed said, "COVID money."

There are many questions surrounding Syed's new mansion and cars. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Oregon Department of Justice and multiple state health departments are looking into the Center for COVID Control, a chain of coronaviruses testing sites.

Test-takers at the company's more than 300 locations across the U.S. have reported the sites to state and local authorities, saying they received delayed test results, no results or multiple conflicting results, among other concerns. The company has the lowest customer review rating in the Better Business Bureau, and social media pages are filled with complaints.

According to public data, the company's main lab, Doctors Clinical Lab, has been reimbursed more than $124 million from the federal government's uninsured program. Private health insurers were paying the company.

The company said it collected more than 80,000 tests per day. The federal government reimburses labs at a rate of $100 per test. The lab was billing private insurance companies.

Syed, 35, and his wife, Aleya Siyaj, 29, are behind the operation, despite the company's unclear nature. They've been unabashed on social media about their wealth.

How did the Center for COVID Control come to be?

The United States has been unable to provide quick, easy and accurate coronaviruses testing. The Biden administration is still rolling out plans for insurance companies to cover the cost of over-the-counter tests and is introducing a website where Americans can order free tests.

The Center for COVID Control was formed in 2020 to fill a hole in the market. State records show that the company was registered in December of that year.

"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 Thursday. A company spokesman did not respond to questions on Friday and Saturday.

The mailing address for the Center for COVID Control is located in a one-story commercial office building about 15 miles northwest of O'Hare International Airport.

Doctors Clinical Lab is a clinical testing vendor partner of the company. The lab is registered with the FDA at the same address as the Center for COVID Control, according to public records.

The lab is being investigated by a federal agency. In public filings, the agency says that employees answer calls for the lab and Center for COVID Control from an office at the address. Syed and Siyaj both work in that office.

Syed documented the company's journey on his public social media pages.

Syed, under the Facebook name "Akbar Syed Raza," posted a video on July 29, 2021, showing viewers around a Center for COVID Control office. In the video, Syed summons a man. The man told viewers he started working for the company in March.

What is your annual salary right now? Syed asks.

The man says "1.4-5 mil."

A post on TikTok by Akbar Ali Syed shows a woman next to a pickup truck.

Syed shared photos and videos of high-end cars on his public TikTok account, which was taken down Thursday. Syed's nephew, an employee of the company, chronicled the family's growing car collection on his public channel.

Syed shared an image of a baby blue car on stage at an auction, and wrote "bidding on one of my dream car." Syed shared a video of a blue car being unloaded from a truck in front of his home. He wrote "Dilevery Day!"

Akbar Ali Syed posted a picture of a sky blue car on stage at an auction.

He shared the video of the red Countach being unloaded from a truck four days later.

A red car is shown in a TikTok post by Akbar Ali Syed.

Two vehicles are racing down the street in a video. Syed wrote "Huracan vs R8". He shared a video of himself approaching the outside of the home to surprise his wife.

The Center for COVID Control seemed to be going well for Siyaj and Syed. The couple's first business venture was not this one.

Akbar Ali Syed created a TikTok picture of Syed outside his home.

Wedding videos, donuts, and axe- throwing are some of the things that can be seen before the testing begins.

Syed ran a wedding photo and video company that was on the website for a long time.

In the last five years, Siyaj has launched at least six businesses.

Illinois records show that Siyaj was the owner of O's Donuts & Cafe Inc, which was dissolved in November 2020. State records show that the company was licensed in Michigan for a period of three years.

Axe Range, Inc was established in early 2019, and Axe Lounge, which was dissolved the following year, was established in early 2020.

The agent for the three businesses is an Illinois resident.

Go to the search bar and type 'COVID test near me'.

At the end of the year, the Center for COVID Control began experiencing problems as the omicron variant of the coronaviruses arrived in the U.S.

"Just enter 'COVID test near me' in the search bar and you can find a number of different locations nearby where you can get tested," President Joe Biden said in an address to the nation in late December.

Biden said that tens of thousands of Americans did it. Many people stumbled upon listings for Center for COVID Control sites and went in line for tests. The company's business increased, but to such a degree that testing sites became overwhelmed, revealing cracks in the delicate system.

At the end of the year, complaints began to emerge on the company's social media pages. A citizen journalist in Chicago launched his own investigation into the company after hearing rumors about the sites.

Akbar Ali Syed posted a picture of a Syed inside a blue car.

Siyaj and Syed were sharing their lifestyles on social media.

Kane County records show that Siyaj became the owner of a home in Saint Charles, Illinois, in November. A 3.65-acre lot on a private road with a gated entry, three-car garage, circular front driveway, fountain, white pillars, iron double doors, crystal chandeliers and a curved floating staircase is shown in a listing on Zillow.

A video posted to the YouTube channel run by Syed's nephew features the "unveiling" of a Ford GT. The identical Ford GT was sold for nearly $1 million.

There are two videos on the YouTube channel that show the Ford GT sitting in the driveway. In the first, the lyrics "I'm a gangster too" play as the video rotates around the vehicle. The second video shows a car and home being shot by a drone.

A Ford GT is shown in a "Helpful Car Tips" video outside a home in Saint Charles, Illinois.

Syed shared videos of himself getting into a car.

A 2003 Ferrari Enzo, one of only 400 ever made by the extreme sports car builder, was auctioned off for over four million dollars in December of 2021. The highest sale price achieved on an online car auction platform and the highest sale price achieved for a Ferrari Enzo were both reported by

USA TODAY first reported on the Center for COVID Control in early January, after a reporter encountered one of the sites operating out of a generator-powered mobile storage unit in Chicago, where bags of tests sat piled in crates on the ground. The company stopped the collection of tests for a week.

In an internal memo obtained by USA TODAY, the company said that they have seen increased scrutiny by the media over the last week. Various state health departments and the Department of Justice were interested in our company.

Even though a federal agency was aware of rampant mismanagement at the main laboratory as early as November, no mention was made of the Center for COVID Control.

The Doctors Clinical Lab has non-compliance and deficiency issues.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services conducted surveys at multiple Center for COVID Control testing sites and the main laboratory in November and December and found "non-compliance" with numerous standards. The agency said it was waiting for a response from the lab.

On the North Side of Chicago, there is a "Center for COVID Control" testing site.

The lab was in danger according to the report. The report found that the lab did not have appropriate training, did not have appropriate equipment, did not have a required state lab license, and did not accurately identify patient samples submitted for testing.

In November, the lab received more than 84,000 samples for testing, but only 43,000 results were reported, according to the report. The lab director didn't have enough staff to perform the testing within 72 hours and didn't have the proper freezers to store the samples.

The Center for COVID Control has no power or ability to comment on the audit of DCL, according to Russ.

"As a key vendor/supplier, CCC has reviewed the report with DCL, and worked with DCL in constructing DCL's 10-Day response and discussion of corrective actions of items identified in the audit."

The businesses are operating together according to the federal report. Employees at the call center of the Doctors Clinical Lab refer to themselves as Center for COVID Control employees, according to a report.

Christina worked in the data entry department, call center and receiving department from July to December. The Center for COVID Control sent a pay stub to USA TODAY.

She was hired after a friend at a karaoke bar gave her the number for one of the company's managers. She walked into the unlocked office building the next day and started doing data entry for the lab.

I just signed a direct deposit and tax form. "I never signed a confidentiality agreement like that," he said. It was a little frightening.

On the North Side of Chicago, there is a "Center for COVID Control" testing site.

Syed's cars could be seen parked outside of the office. She said that no one in the office wore face masks or gloves. She said that staff put biohazardous waste in regular trash bags and then dumped it in regular trash bins.

The data entry team was overseen by Morales within three weeks. She said that the company had about 40 to 60 locations that were processing about 1,200 tests a day.

She said that she kept her head down because money really does talk and they were paying well. We were opening up three more locations every week. I noticed that my team was having problems catching up.

The Center for COVID Control operations began to fall apart in late October due to a large number of tests that were left out in the warm office for days without ice packs. USA TODAY reviewed a video taken inside the office showing plastic bags of tests on the ground next to boxes of tests.

"We were still told to process tests that were a week old," he said.

The lab was getting 12,000 tests a day in December, but there were only 34 people on the data entry team. She said that they were behind because they didn't hire enough people. How do you expect us to keep up with the rapid expansion?

The lab was five to six days behind on processing tests, and the call center was receiving hundreds of calls. We would tell them that the results were not good and that they needed to re-test. The instructions were given by the director of operations.

Customers' sensitive personal information was freely shared on various company groups, which automatically download images to cell phones. She said that her phone was getting flooded with personal information from the location managers.

A staff member confirmed the account.

According to public data, the Doctors Clinical Lab in RollingMeadows has been reimbursed more than $113 million for testing and $9 million for treatment through the COVID-19 claims Reimbursement to health care providers and facilities for testing, treatment and vaccine administration for the uninsured program. A Chicago location has been reimbursed over a million dollars for testing and treatment.

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 each gave $1 billion.

I didn't know because nobody told me.

The employees of the Center for COVID Control testing sites told USA TODAY that they did not receive training on how to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Bravette Fleet said he started working at a testing site in October. He said that the site secured a fridge for the test samples more than a month ago.

He said that they would just sit them on a table and line them up and then bag them up so that the driver could pick them up.

Fleet said he realized he was supposed to put the samples in the fridge when he read the manual.

Fleet said that when he read through the book about the steps they were supposed to take, he realized they weren't taking them. Nobody told me that we were doing things that I didn't know about.

Fleet said that he used his personal cellphones to send test results from his office. One of Fleet's former coworkers confirmed his account.

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Heather Doty, a former microbiology lab analyst at Cardinal Health, started as a lab tech at a site in Hampshire, Illinois, on December 6. Doty said that he had two hours and 45 minutes of training the day before.

Doty said her training was observing site operations. She didn't have to read any training material. She said she brought issues to the owner's attention after raising concerns.

Doty said that there are certain things that a lab tech can do. I was not okay with just letting things go.

Though he is aware of issues at other locations, he said he has enjoyed working at a site in Wisconsin. A freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying pre-med, he started working at the site over winter break.

Employees received a written guide for review, but there was no training required.

He worked from open to close each day before the site paused test collection. He said that the company is not trying to do anyone wrong, but people get upset about missed tests. I promise that we are trying our best.

In an internal email obtained by USA TODAY that was sent to employees of a Chicago testing site, all staff members were asked to complete two training sessions, one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and one on HIPAA compliance, and upload proof of their training certificates by Friday to a public Doctors

The email was signed by the executive assistant of a car wash chain who was also a site manager.

The comments made by former employees of the main lab and those at the testing sites are of great concern to theCCC.

Such occurrences and practices are not acceptable. He said that the company's "operational pause" was intended to eliminate any deviations from company policies and return to a trusted, national provider of accessible, accurate, affordable/no cost Covid-19 tests.

The lab is under scrutiny for its use of a trademarked logo. The company sent a cease-and-desist letter for a trademark violation. DCL Corporation's trademark logo is featured on a website for Doctors Clinical Lab.

Do you know more about the Center for COVID Control? Grace Hauck is a reporter for

The DCL Corporation logo is on a wesbite for Doctors Clinical Lab.

The DCL Corporation logo can be seen in a screen shot of "".

The Center for Covid Control got millions, but failed patients nationwide.