Back in October, when the news was all Ebola all the time, you could scarcely avoid the media presence of Sal Pain - the Chief Safety Officer of a company called Bio-Recovery - who won the emergency bid from the city of New York to decontaminate the apartment of Dr. Craig Spencer. Bob speaks to Alex Campbell of BuzzFeed News' Investigation Unit, who took a look into Sal Pain's past and discovered he wasn't who he claimed to be in the media.
BOB: This is On the Media, I’m Bob Garfield. This past summer in Ferguson, a man named Shawn Parcells was all over television, for assisting in the private autopsy of Michael Brown commissioned by his family. And he was one of the few people close to the Brown investigation willing to talk to the media. Here’s Parcells at a press conference speculating over what Brown was doing when he was shot.
PRESS CONFERENCE: The arm is a very mobile part of his body. So it also could have occurred when he was putting his hands up…. It could’ve happened if he put his arms across in a defensive manner. We don’t know.
BOB: Earlier in that same press conference Brown family Attorney Daryl Parks said “In a situation like this, facts become very important, evidence becomes very important. And it’s so important that the facts in this case really get out.” Parcells said he was a forensic pathology expert, a forensics medical consultant, a medical investigator, and a professor. But a CNN investigation revealed a slight discrepancy in his resume.
CNN: So you call yourself a professor.
CNN: Where are you a professor?
Parcells: I’m an adjunct professor at Washburn University in Topeka Campus.
BOB: Nope, Washburn University told CNN. Never on their faculty. In another case, Parcells apparently led deputies to assume he was a doctor and went on to perform an autopsy for a criminal case. That autopsy was later declared invalid.
Parcells: If they want to think I’m a doctor, that’s their issue. People assume stuff all the time and they may never ask.
BOB: It’s a tale as old as time...magazine: fraudsters inflating their credentials for news organizations too eager and/or gullible and/or lazy to check the source. Back in October, when the news was all Ebola all the time, you could scarcely avoid the media presence of a man named Sal Pane - the chief Safety Officer of a company called Bio-Recovery.
CONMAN CNBC power lunch: As New York deals with its second Ebola scare of the past week. We now turn our attention to the clean up...Joining us on the phone is Sal Pane he is the Chief Security Officer of Bio Recovery Corporation...
NEWS: am joined to talk about what it takes to sanitize an entire bowling alley, for example, I want to bring in Sal Pane he is the chief safety officer at Long Island based Bio Recovery Corporation.
NEWS: How do you clean up after Ebola? What do you do? We’ve been talking about this for a couple of days, and finally we have an expert who knows. Sal Pane is with Bio recovery corporation of New York. Sal, thank you for being with us today.
BOB: According to Pane, Ebola quote ‘wasn’t his first rodeo.’ The company had, for instance, decontaminated ABC News’ offices during the Anthrax attacks in 2001.
PANE: Ton Connoly Morning clip: For 20 plus years we have cleaned up some of the most remarkable situations this country has ever seen. From MERSA, Anthrax, to now Ebola.
BOB: Given his experience and visibility, it was no surprise when Pain’s company won the emergency bid from the city of New York to decontaminate the apartment of Dr. Craig Spencer, who had returned sickened from West Africa. Pane told USA Today “This is our Michael Jordan moment. The fourth quarter. When everybody says no, we show up.” But when Pane and his Bio-Recovery team showed up at Spencer’s apartment, it was in a truck bearing expired permit numbers that belonged to a dead man. Turns out Pane isn’t an expert in biohazard decontamination; he’s a scammer and ex-convict with a history of using the media to lend credibility to his scams. Alex Campbell, of Buzzfeed’s Investigative Team, discovered that Pain first came to prominence during another crisis...
CAMPBELL: The Mortgage crisis, he had a loan modification company called Amerimod and he went all over TV to talk about his expertise.
TAPE: ANNOUNCER: Salvatore Pane Junior, President of Amerimod Modification Agency, says once you accept that you might be in danger of foreclosure you then need to educate yourself and reach out to the right people. PANE: That's the most important thing. With the use of computers now-a-days you can find a lot of stuff on the internet. I wouldn't believe all of it - but there are a lot of good non-for-profits....
CAMPBELL: He also wrote commentaries and appeared in news articles. One claimed that he had 10 years of experience in the field even though he was 25 at the time. Turns out that company was hit with a big civil suit from the New York Attorney General. Basically saying that they had taken upfront fees. Had advertised in Spanish but then given contracts only in English. And sort of ducked the customers after taking these. Eventually a judge would hit Pane and his company with a 12 million dollar settlement.
BOB: He certainly understands the power of the imprimatur of a news organization. Even back in the bad mortgage days. When his company did an infomercial kind of disguised as a news show:
AD: Gloria from Queens New York -- go ahead Gloria... you're on The Mortgage Crisis Update.
'GLORIA': Hi, I was just watching the news program the other night and they were talking about this housing program. Why would I need someone like Sal or his company?
AD: Sal, I must say,Gloria asks a great question. One that I was gonna ask you myself.
SAL: Logan, you're right...
BOB: His modus is to surround himself with newsroom credibility, huh?
CAMPBELL: Absolutely. What he was doing with Ebola sort of followed a pretty similar playbook to what he did with the mortgage crisis. Which was to go on TV as much as possible and project expertise to further the brand he was building.
BOB: How did he end up in the hazmat business. There's an allegationg that he conned a woman out of a perfectly legitimate business that had bene owned by her late brother.
CAMPBELL: That's correct. A man name Ron Gospodarski ran a company called "Bio Recovery" he was actually involved in cleaning out anthrax in 2001. About a month or two after his death. His sister who had taken control of his estate got a call from Pane. According to the sister, Pane said he was very good friends with Ron. That he was going to paint a mural of Ron on his company ambulance and basically persuaded her to sell assets like the trucks and also eventually the company name to him. Fast-forward 9 or so months, he's all over TV claiming expertise that Ron himself had.
BOB: Where all did he show up over the course of the last year.
CAMPBELL: He was on Al Jazeera, on Fox News a lot. He was all over the radio. Talking up his experience with ebola. In one instance trashing the company that did clean-up in Texas.
TAPE (PANE): I completely disagree with their methodology. Our men walk around in class A or class B suits. Those are the ones you're familiar with seeing in the movies. They went in with level C PPE which was, you know, respierators you could buy at Home Depot.
CAMPBELL: He was everything.
BOB: It raises some questions about journalistic due-diligence. Some stuff should be obvious. For example, he told one radio station that he'd been in the biohazards business for 27 years. Well, when he said that, he was 32. Which would make him quite a precocious biohazard entrepreneur. Red flags a plenty.
CAMPBELL: What helped Sal Pane, it would seem, was his simple name change from spelling his name P-A-N-E which is how it is on his birth certificate, to PAIN - as a reporter, the first thing I do is go and check where this guy has been before. And so by simply changing his name he probably safe-guarded against people figuring out his past.
BOB: Seems to me that a simple Google search would reveal that his whole internet history only goes back you know, about 9 months. Isn't that itself reason to start asking more questions?
CAMPBELL: That's a great point. i think one thing Mr. Pane was taking advantage of is the fact that Ebola in the US is such a new thing. He found a pretty opportune moment where there was a high spike in demand.
BOB: Nonetheless, I'm kind of amazed that as much as his face was on TV, the various people who he exploited back during the sub prime crisis wouldn't have said...'i'm pretty sure that guy in the hazmat suit is my mortgage broker who cost me my home.' It's really brazen.
CAMPBELL: It is. And frankly, the simple fact that he went on TV so much helped us to peal back the onion. Because that's the only way we were truly able to say. 'Ok, this is clearly the same guy.' You do have to wonder if there was sort of a snowball effect where after one or two or three appearances he just sort of gained credibility and from there he's sort of off to the races. He can go on whatever he wants to go on.
BOB: It seems to me that the media here, as an institution, are at a minimum here in an enabler in what could have been really quite tragic. We're talking about a fraud hired to remove a dangerous pathogen on the basis of an expired license and a media resume that makes him the poster child for hazardous clean-ups. Had "Biohazards" failed to clean it and had someone been sickened would it be fair to blame the media for creating the monster who perpetrated the fraud?
CAMPBELL: The city says that they did a great job cleaning the apartment. And, you know, we don't know what exactly went on in there. So with all those caveats, it does seem pretty clear to me that the media enabled this man to get to where he was.
BOB: To which I can add only, "Oy Vey." Alex, thank you so much.
CAMPBELL: Thank you. Really appreciate it.
BOB: Alex Campbell is a reporter for BuzzFeed's investigative team. His story was titled, "The Con Artist Hired to Clean-Up Ebola." We called Sal Pain to offer him an opportunity to respond to Alex Campbell’s Buzzfeed article. He said, uncharacteristically, “no comment.”