Gov. Kathy Hochul tried to avoid blame Friday for a spiraling “pay-to-play” scandal in which one of her top political donors scored no-bid contracts that overcharged taxpayers for $637 million in COVID-19 test kits.
And she also brushed off the notion anyone in her administration should pay the price for it, telling The Post dismissively, “They did what they did.”
Asked about the recently revealed deal with Digital Gadgets of New Jersey, whose owner, Charlie Tebeble, and his relatives have contributed about $330,000 to her campaign, Hochul at first repeated her team’s talking points on the simmering scandal.
“My directive to my team was: ‘The only way we’re going to get kids back in schools is to amass as many test kits from wherever you need to get them – just go do it,’” the governor said, when asked to answer for it by The Post at an unrelated event in Lake George.
“That was my only involvement.”
New York might have saved as much as $286 million on the tests had the Hochul administration gotten a better price from the company, which the Times Union recently reported charged the state twice as much as other vendors selling the same test.
But when pressed further, Hochul wouldn’t say who in her administration was responsible for the seeming sweetheart deal — or even if she planned to hold anyone accountable.
“They did what they did and I will say that no contribution has ever had an effect on any public policy decision in my administration,” she said.
Hochul declined to answer additional questions on the matter.
Hochul has amassed a giant war chest while running for a full term in office, but the growing scandal and other alleged pay-to-play schemes involving donors have provided fodder for Republican attacks.
“For anyone trying to keep up with Kathy Hochul’s mounting pay to play scandals, this Medicaid issue is on top of her $600M+ no-bid contract to Digital Gadgets, a top campaign donor, for COVID tests that cost New York taxpayers twice the going rate,” GOP gubernatorial candidate Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Suffolk) tweeted
A steady trickle of revelations about the timing of the rapid testing deal have shadowed the governor in recent weeks amid growing calls from government watchdogs and political rivals for state and federal officials to investigate the deal.
“At best this was horrendous price gouging and at worst this was pay-to-play and price gouging,” John Kaehny, executive director of the good government group Reinvent Albany, told The Post.
Digital Gadget honcho Charles Tebele gave $25,000 on Nov. 9, 2021 to Hochul before holding a fundraiser for her four days before she declared a state of emergency suspending state contract rules, according to the Times Union.
State records show Tebele dropped $5,150 at the fundraiser while his wife Nancy Tebele, whose LinkedIn shows her working as a sales executive at the company, donated $18,000 as well.
Their son also landed an internship with the campaign.
Family members, some of whom had never donated to state campaigns before, jumped into the action in the following weeks and months as money from the $637 million began rolling into Digital Gadgets.
Charlie Tebele held another fundraiser for Hochul in April ahead of a final payment from the state about two weeks later, according to the upstate newspaper.
The campaign meanwhile promoted their son to the position of “finance associate,” a move that roughly tripled the bi-weekly salary for the NYU undergrad to $1,842, records show.
A Tebele spokesman, John Gallagher, has denied that anyone from the family or company discussed rapid testing contacts or the state of emergency with the Hochul administration while defending the price Digital Gadgets charged for the tests.
“As we have previously stated neither Mr. Tebele nor the company communicated in any way with the Governor or the Campaign about tests or any company business, and any implication to the contrary is false,” Gallagher said in an email earlier this week.
Republicans and good government advocates have called for state or federal officials to probe whether Hochul and Tebele are telling the truth about the $637 million deal while New York Democrats continue efforts to avoid collateral damage from the growing scandal.
“I think the governor has answered. At this point I’m not responding,” state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told The Post yesterday at an event in Yonkers.
A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie did not respond to multiple requests for comment.