Sam Dawson uses a collection swab at the walk-up Center for COVID Control testing center on Wetmore Avenue in Everett on Jan. 13. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Sam Dawson uses a collection swab at the walk-up Center for COVID Control testing center on Wetmore Avenue in Everett on Jan. 13. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Attorney General sues company behind ‘sham testing centers’

The Center for COVID Control ran sites in Everett and Lynnwood. A lawsuit alleges they gave invalid results, or none at all.

OLYMPIA — Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is suing a questionable COVID-19 testing company that ran locations in Everett, Lynnwood and across the country.

Filed Monday in King County Superior Court, the lawsuit alleges that the Center for COVID Control and the Illinois husband-wife duo behind it provided invalid, false and delayed results — or sometimes no results at all — while billing the federal government over $124 million.

“The company’s unlawful practices included storing tests in garbage bags for over a week rather than properly refrigerating them, and backdating sample collection dates so that stale samples would still be processed,” a news release from the Attorney General’s Office said.

It’s the latest news in a saga surrounding the Center for COVID Control, whose Everett location proved popular as locals rushed to get tested amid a huge surge in infections. In mid-January, it was revealed the site, along with several across Western Washington, was operating without a business license.

Facing a flood of complaints, the company announced it would take a week-long break to revamp staff training. That was extended, and its Chicago-area headquarters closed this week after being searched by the FBI.

Now Washington joins jurisdictions around the country questioning the legitimacy of the firm.

The suit includes complaints from former employees and patients, detailing instances in which the company promised people quick results despite its clear inability to provide them.

The testing sites “caused imminent and irrevocable harm to the welfare of the people of Washington by providing invalid COVID-19 results or no results at all,” the suit says.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, all 13 sites in Washington, except for one in Yakima, were operating without a business license.

Employees reported they were instructed to lie to patients, sometimes telling people the tests were inconclusive and urging them to take another test the company could bill for.

“Center for COVID Control contributed to the spread of COVID-19 when it provided false negative results,” Ferguson said. “These sham testing centers threatened the health and safety of our communities. They must be held accountable.”

Washington is seeking civil penalties of up to $12,500 for each violation of the Consumer Protection Act, including $5,000 in penalties for targeting vulnerable populations. It’s also aiming to make the Center for COVID Control relinquish any profits it made by breaking the law.

The Attorney General’s Office also plans to request a preliminary injunction hearing “for the soonest available date.”

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; Twitter: @yawclaudia.

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