Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday tried to avoid blame for a spreading “pay-to-play” scandal in which one of her top political donors struck no-bid contracts that gave taxpayers $637 million in COVID-19 Test kits overwhelmed.
And she also brushed aside the notion that anyone in her administration should be paying the price for it, dismissively telling the Post, “They did what they did.”
When asked about the recently disclosed deal with New Jersey-based Digital Gadgets, whose owner Charlie Tebeble and his relatives contributed about $330,000 to her campaign, Hochul first reiterated her team’s talking points about the smoldering scandal.
“My directive to my team was, ‘The only way we’re going to get kids back into schools is to collect as many test kits from wherever you need them — just do it,'” the governor said when he was asked to answer for it by The Post at an independent event in Lake George.
“That was my only involvement.”
New York could potentially have saved as much as $286 million on the tests if the Hochul government had gotten a better price from the company, which the Times Union recently reported was charging the state twice as much as others Vendors selling the same test.
But when pressed further, Hochul didn’t say who in her government was responsible for the seemingly sweet deal – or if she planned to hold anyone accountable.
“They did what they did and I will say that no contribution has ever had an impact on any public policy decision in my government,” she said.
Hochul declined to answer any further questions on the subject.
Hochul has amassed a huge war chest while running for a full term, but the growing scandal and other suspected pay-to-play schemes involving donors have provided fodder for Republican attacks.
“For anyone trying to keep up with Kathy Hochul’s rising pay for gaming scandals, this Medicaid issue comes on her more than $600 million no-bid contract with Digital Gadgets, a top campaign donor, for COVID-19 Add tests that will cost New York taxpayers twice the rate,” GOP gubernatorial candidate, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Suffolk) tweeted Thursday after a Post report of alleged pay-to-play with a donor tied to state Medicaid transportation contracts.
A steady trickle of revelations about the timing of the rapid testing deal has overshadowed the governor in recent weeks, amid growing calls from government overseers and political rivals for state and federal officials to investigate the deal.
“At best this was outrageous price gouging and at worst pay-to-play and price gouging,” John Kaehny, chief executive of good government group Reinvent Albany, told The Post.
Digital Gadget honcho Charles Tebele gave Hochul $25,000 on Nov. 9, 2021 before holding a fundraiser for her four days before a state of emergency was declared and state contract rules suspended, according to the Times Union.
State records show that Tebele lost $5,150 in the fundraiser, while his wife Nancy Tebele, whose LinkedIn shows she works as a sales manager at the company, also donated $18,000.
Her son also managed to get an internship with the campaign.
Family members, some of whom had never donated to government campaigns before, jumped into action over the weeks and months that followed as money from the $637 million began pouring into Digital Gadgets.
Charlie Tebele hosted another fundraiser for Hochul in April before the state made the final payment about two weeks later, according to the upstate newspaper.
The campaign, meanwhile, promoted her son to the position of “finance clerk,” a move that roughly tripled the NYU student’s biweekly salary to $1,842, records show.
A Tebele spokesman, John Gallagher, has denied that any of the family or company discussed rapid test contacts or the state of emergency with the Hochul administration, while defending the price Digital Gadgets charged for the tests.
“As we have previously established, neither Mr. Tebele nor the company have communicated in any way with the governor or the campaign regarding testing or company matters, and any implication to the contrary is false,” Gallagher said in an email earlier this week.
Republicans and advocates of good government have urged state or federal officials to investigate whether Hochul and Tebele are telling the truth about the $637 million deal, while New York’s Democrats continue their efforts to avoid collateral damage from the growing scandal.
“I think the governor answered. I’m not responding at this time,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told The Post at an event in Yonkers yesterday.
A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie did not respond to multiple requests for comment.