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LETTERS: Assembly GOP calls for review of Hochul’s COVID-test deal

By Joseph Angelino and Jarett Gandolfo

Date:

During the COVID-19 state of emergency, which finally expired on Sept. 13, the [New York] Governor’s office and state agencies were given expanded discretion on state expenditures. In an effort to expedite the state’s purchasing and procurement processes during the public health crisis, the Legislature and Comptroller’s normal oversight authority was significantly restricted.

Information compiled by the Empire Center and reported by the Albany Times Union indicates that the Hochul Administration took full advantage of the relaxed budget oversight, possibly for her political gain. A series of articles raise serious questions about an agreement to purchase COVID-19 test kits from a New Jersey-based company, Digital Gadgets, the CEO of which is a major donor to Governor Hochul’s campaign.

The Minority members of the Assembly Oversight, Analysis and Investigations Committee believe there is sufficient reason for this panel to exercise its authority and investigate this matter thoroughly.

According to reports, the Hochul Administration bought 52 million COVID-19 tests from Digital Strategies at a dramatically higher rate than was being charged by other companies. In some instances, other companies charged as little as $5 apiece for test kits. In addition, the state of California paid nearly half for the identical tests. Digital Gadgets charged New York an average of $12.25 per test. California bought approximately 10 million tests and paid $6.75 apiece — 45 percent less than New York. 

This degree of fiscal malfeasance is alarming. By contracting with Digital Gadgets rather than less-expensive options, the state paid nearly double market price, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. What makes this situation even more egregious is that the beneficiary of the Hochul Administration’s decision is an individual who gave generously to the Governor’s campaign immediately before and after the no-bid contract was awarded. Consider:

• The CEO of Digital Gadgets, Charles Tebele and his family members had no prior history of political donations but gave $300,000 to Gov. Hochul’s campaign.

• A month before the Hochul Administration entered an agreement with Digital Gadgets, Charles Tebele hosted an in-person fundraiser for the Governor.

• A business associate of the Tebeles, Jack Cayre, and his family members gave $418,000 to the Governor’s re-election effort.

• The Hochul campaign hired a member of the Tebele family on its fundraising staff.

We believe that when all facts are taken into account, the Digital Gadgets no-bid contract is a blatant example of pay-to-play governing. A campaign donor received preferential treatment from the Executive Chamber, and New York’s taxpayers were forced to pay hundreds of millions more than necessary.

This matter must be investigated. The Albany Times Union articles [call] into question the credibility of the Governor’s administration and her potential abuse of emergency declarations. As duly elected legislators, we have a responsibility to take action and uncover the truth for all New York taxpayers.          

Assembly member Joseph Angelino (R,C,I-Norwich) & Assembly member Jarett Gandolfo (R,C,I-Sayville)

Editor’s note: The above letter, dated Sept. 21, was sent to John T. McDonald III (D–Cohoes), chairman of the Assembly Oversight, Analysis and Investigation Committee and other Democratic committee members, as well as released to the press.