Gov. Cathy Hochhol tried to avoid blaming Friday for an escalating “pay-to-play” scandal in which a major political donor registered no-bid contracts that raised taxes for taxpayers for $637 million in COVID-19 testing kits.
She also shrugged off the idea that anyone in her administration should pay for it, telling the newspaper lightly, “They did what they did.”
When asked about the recently revealed deal with Digital Gadgets of New Jersey, whose owner Charlie Tebeble and his relatives contributed nearly $330,000 to its campaign, Hochul initially reiterated her team’s talking points about the raging scandal.
“My directive to my team was,” said the governor, when asked, “The only way we’re going to get the kids back to school is to collect as many test kits as possible from wherever you want to get them — just go and do it.” Related in Lake George.
“This was my only participation.”
New York could have saved up to $286 million in tests had Hochul’s management gotten a better price from the company, which Times Union recently reported charging the state twice as much as other vendors selling the same test.
But when pressed further, Hochul wouldn’t say who’s in charge of her management about the darling deal — or even if she plans to hold anyone accountable.
“They did what they did and I will say that no contribution has had any bearing whatsoever on any public policy decision in my administration,” she said.
Hochul declined to answer additional questions about it.
Hochul amassed a giant war chest while running for a full term in office, but a growing scandal and other alleged pay-to-play schemes involving donors provided fodder for Republican attacks.
“For anyone trying to keep up with Kathy Hochhol’s spiraling pay to play scandals, this Medicaid issue comes on top of her $600 million+ no-bid contract to Digital Gadgets, one of the campaign’s biggest donors, for COVID tests costing taxpayers in the New York is twice the current amount rate,” the Republican candidate for Rep. Lee Zelden (Suffolk Republican) chirp Thursday after Post reported an alleged pay-to-play with a donor tied to state Medicaid transfer contracts.
A steady stream of revelations about the timing of the rapid test deal has cast a shadow over the governor in recent weeks amid growing calls from state watchdogs and political rivals for state and federal officials to investigate the deal.
“At best this was appalling price gouging, at worst it was pay gouging and price gouging,” John Cainey, executive director of Good Government Group Reinvent Albany, told The Post.
Digital Gadget honcho Charles Tebele gave Hochul $25,000 on November 9, 2021 before holding its fundraiser four days before declaring a state of emergency with state contract rules suspended, according to the Times Union.
State records show that Tibele dropped $5,150 at the fundraising event while his wife, Nancy Tibele, who LinkedIn shows serves as a sales executive for the company, also donated $18,000.
Their son also got an internship with the campaign.
Family members, some of whom had never donated to state campaigns before, jumped at the action in the following weeks and months as money from $637 million began pouring into digital tools.
Charlie Tibelli held another fundraiser for Hoechul in April ahead of the state’s final batch about two weeks later, according to the North State newspaper.
Meanwhile, the campaign promoted their son to a “financial assistant” position, a move that nearly tripled New York University’s half-weekly salary to $1,842, records show.
A Tebele spokesperson, John Gallagher, denied that anyone from the family or company had discussed rapid testing or emergency communications with Hochul management while defending Digital Gadgets’ price for the tests.
“As previously reported, neither Mr. Tibele nor the Company has in any way contacted the Governor or the campaign regarding testing or any Company business, and any indication to the contrary is incorrect,” Gallagher said in an email earlier this week.
Republicans and advocates of good government have called on state or federal officials to investigate whether Hochul and Tebele were telling the truth about the $637 million deal while New York Democrats continue their efforts to avoid collateral damage from the mounting scandal.
I think the governor has answered. At this point I am not responding,” State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told The Post yesterday at an event in Yonkers.
A spokesman for the association’s president, Karl Hesty, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Source : nypost.com