California paid 45% less for the same COVID-19 tests that New York state bought from a company tied to $300,000 in campaign donations to Gov. Kathy Hochul — and watchdogs are calling for answers.
The revelation Friday of New York taxpayers getting soaked on the test purchases is just the latest instance of alleged pay-to-play schemes involving the Democratic incumbent ahead of the Nov. 8 election.
“New Yorkers are supposed to believe it’s pure coincidence Gov. Hochul bought COVID tests for $12.25 apiece from a major donor, when other companies offered tests at half that price?” Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay (R-Oswego) said in a statement.
“This is negligence, incompetence or blatant corruption — maybe all three. Either way, it demands answers,” he added.
The upstate Republican is not the only one calling for state and federal officials to probe how the New Jersey-based Digital Gadgets was able to charge the state nearly twice as much for rapid tests as the Omicron variant swept across the state last year.
Cutting out the Hochul-friendly middleman might have saved the Empire State as much as $286 million out of the $637 million in total payments to the company for 52 million tests, according to the Times Union, which first reported the Golden State discount Friday.
Digital Gadgets founder Charlie Tebele and his family gave $70,000 to her campaign before landing the contract and $227,000 in total once a deal got inked, with Tebele — who has denied wrongdoing — hosting a fundraiser for the governor last April, according to the upstate newspaper.
“Yes, New York was in a crisis, but so was the rest of the country, and other states and the federal government paid nowhere near what New York did for the same test,” John Kaehny, executive director of the government watchdog group Reinvent Albany, said of the purchase made while the governor still held emergency powers due to the pandemic.
A Health Department spokesman did not immediately provide comment Friday about why the state did not buy directly from the manufacturer to get a lower price as did California.
The revelation adds to growing evidence that the Hochul administration gave preferential treatment to campaign donors despite her calls to make state government more ethical after replacing disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned last year amid a litany of scandals.
“Even though she promised an open and transparent administration, this apple didn’t fall far from the corrupt Cuomo tree,” state Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt (R-Niagara) told The Post.
Hochul has denied any wrongdoing in the growing scandal surrounding the rapid testing purchases alongside other alleged pay-to-play schemes involving matters like Medicaid transportation contracts, $600 million in public money for a Buffalo Bills stadium and ongoing efforts to overhaul Penn Station.
Hochul has maintained a huge fundraising advantage over Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican nominee for governor in the Nov. 8 election
“Where are the Legislature’s investigative bodies? Where is the attorney general? The governor needs to be held accountable. The longer her political allies stay silent, the more this looks like Democrats covering up for one of their own,” Barclay said.