Investigation digs up dirt on man behind NYC Ebola clean-up

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BioRecoveryCorp's Sal Pane carries biohazard warning stickers as he works outside the apartment building of Ebola patient Dr. Craig Spencer, in New York, Oct. 24, 2014.

AP/Richard Drew

As the first case of Ebola hit New York in late October, the city turned to one man to clean up the contaminated waste: Sal Pane. Pane and his company seemed like the perfect candidates. They had nearly 20 years of experience dealing with hazardous situations. The only problem: Pane wasn't who he claimed to be, reports CBS News correspondent Vinita Nair.

"We are the most highly-trained company out there that's done this," Pane said on Al Jazeera America. "We've done everything from Anthrax, from MRSA, to Ebola."

On TV and on the radio, Pane was a pro at promoting his company.

"For 20-plus years, I mean we have cleaned up some of the most remarkable situations that this country has seen," Pane said on "The Tony Conley Morning Show" radio program.

Pane was the face for cleaning up Ebola.

"Anywhere that seemed to be willing to give him oxygen, he was there, talking up his experience and claiming that he and his company were the right folks to do the job," Buzzfeed News investigative reporter Alex Campbell said.

Dr. Craig Spencer free of Ebola virus

His company, Bio Recovery Corporation, had decades of experience. It was tapped by New York City to decontaminate Dr. Craig Spencer's apartment and the Brooklyn bowling alley he visited.

But an investigation by Buzzfeed News found Pane had only been cleaning up hazardous waste for one year. Campbell learned Pane, a convicted felon, got into the industry by convincing an unsuspecting sister to sell her dead brother's business, a well-regarded cleaning company. She said she was duped.

Campbell notes while the company existed previously, Pane was never really a part of it.

"Bio Recovery Corporation, up until 2013, was owned by somebody completely different," Campbell said.

Pane's been at the center of controversy before. Back in 2008, during the height of the financial crisis, he started two loan modification companies.

"Amerimod knows how to get the best terms for our borrowers because we know the industry inside and out," he said on his company's infomercial.

They were a scam, and New York State sued him. Pane was held liable for more than $12.5 million. He's only paid back $62,000.

"A few months later is when he bought the Bio Recovery company," Campbell said.

He had only been slapped on the wrist, so he did it again with a new company.

Last month, it was the attorney general's office who quietly alerted officials to Pane's legal problems, prompting New York City to quickly cut ties with Bio Recovery Corporation.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene admitted they were unaware of his background, but defended their decision to hire the company. In a statement to CBS News, they "vigorously reviewed all of Bio-Recovery's cleanup work, and determined it was successfully performed."

When we spoke to Pane, he denied misrepresenting himself, but refused an on-camera interview.

Attorneys for the company called Buzzfeed's story "slanderous" and "replete with misstatements, lies and outright falsehoods."

New York State is looking into Pane's latest claims but he has yet to be charged with any crimes.

"He comes across as very persuasive," Campbell said. "Even in our brief discussions with him, he is very persuasive at times and can be very charming too."

Campbell said he thinks that's part of how he fooled people.

Despite making misleading statements, Pane insists when discussing professional experience, he was speaking for the company, not himself.

As far as exaggerating your experience -- there's nothing illegal about that.