Investigate Hochul’s Alleged COVID-19 School Test Kit ’Pay to Play’ Scheme

Posted: September 27, 2022 in In the News
(L-R) Moms for Liberty of Putnam County Vice Chair Abby O’Brien, Putnam County Clerk Michael Bartolotti, Assemblyman Mike Lawler, Yorktown Supervisor Matt Slater, Mahopac School District Parent Erin Lee Crowley, Assemblyman Kevin Byrne, Mahopac School Board Member Tanner McCracken, Carmel School District Parent Greg Ellner, and Deputy Chairman of the Putnam County Legislature Paul Jonke.

Assemblymen Kevin Byrne (Mahopac) and Michael Lawler (Pearl River) joined several local elected officials and parents in front of the Putnam Supreme & County Court in Carmel, NY to call on Attorney General Letitia James to open an investigation into the Hochul Administration awarding hundreds of millions of dollars in state contracts to one of the Governor’s biggest campaign donors, Digital Gadgets. 

In December 2021, the state purchased COVID-19 testing kits from Digital Gadgets at an average price of $12.25 per kit when other companies were selling similar kits at a price of $5 per kit. During the months that followed the contract, the CEO of Digital Gadgets, Charlie Tebele, hosted an in-person fundraiser for the Governor. He and his family have donated nearly $330,000 to Governor Hochul’s campaign. Numerous news outlets have covered this story since it was first reported by the Albany Times Union.

In total, Digital Gadgets received $637 million from the New York State Department of Health for the sale of approximately 52 million test kits. A month prior to the purchase, Governor Hochul signed an emergency order suspending the normal competitive bidding process on November 21st. This means the controversial purchase did not go through the traditional bidding or oversight processes by the state comptroller. 

Other companies, such as IHealth Labs and Spectrum Medical, agreed to sell the state kits at a much lower price than what Digital Gadgets offered. IHealth Labs sold New York State 5 million testing kits for $5 per kit while Spectrum Medical sold the state 10.2 million kits at $7.80 per kit, compared to Digital Gadget’s average price of $12.25 per kit. For more context, the State of California paid about 45% less per kit than what New York State had spent. If New York had paid the same price as California, NYS would have saved $286 million.

“This seems to be yet another all-too-common example of ‘pay-to-play’ politics in Albany’s culture of corruption. It must be investigated,” said Byrne. “Our Attorney General, Letitia James, recently spoke at a local political function in Putnam County where she highlighted the division in our country and implored those seeking elected office to ‘seek truth to power.’ She now has an opportunity to show strength, to heal the divide and to ‘seek truth to power’ by investigating the corruption in her own backyard. Instead, she recently filed a 220-page civil lawsuit against the 45th President of the United States who doesn’t even live in New York anymore. AG James, you have an opportunity to lead, to combat corruption and to ensure New York’s taxpayers are not abused by corrupt shady deals. Take it.”

“Andrew Cuomo was arguably the most corrupt Governor in the history of the State of New York, was embroiled in multiple ‘pay-to-play’ scandals, and I thought that New York might have turned the page but unfortunately that is not what happened,” said Assemblyman Mike Lawler. “In just over a year’s time, Kathy Hochul has raised nearly $50 million in campaign contributions and is driven by the very ‘pay-to-play’ culture that she learned from Andrew Cuomo. This example, which has been brought to light by the Times Union, of paying over $600 million for COVID-19 test kits in exchange for $330,000 in campaign contributions is absolutely criminal.” Assemblyman Lawler sponsored a bill during the 2021-22 Legislative Session, bill number A.8219/S.5326, that would amend the state finance law to ensure appropriate oversight of state contracts are kept in place during state disaster emergencies.

“I want to thank Assemblyman Byrne and Assemblyman Lawler for their leadership on this issue,” said Supervisor Matt Slater, Town of Yorktown. “I find it astonishing that my Town was able to get a better deal for COVID-19 test kits, at the exact same time, than the State of New York. It makes no sense, and because of the good reporting by the Albany Times Union, we now know why. This shows us that the institution as a whole is broken, and we need to change it.” 

The facts here are deeply concerning – at best, this is bad governance and abuse of millions of taxpayer dollars; at worst, this is unforgivable corruption,” said Tanner McCracken, Mahopac School Board Trustee. “For the Governor to use school districts as an excuse for her deal to buy COVID tests for double what California paid is disrespectful to our students, parents, and school district taxpayers. We want our kids in the classroom to feel a sense of pride and responsibility as American citizens. But right now, with this latest scandal in Albany, our students sadly have no leadership in the Governor’s office they can look up to. We must restore ethics to public service.”

(The opinions expressed by Trustee McCracken represent his own individual view and not the view of the collective Mahopac Central School District Board of Education)

“Everyone despises wasteful government spending,” said Greg Ellner, resident and parent in Carmel Central School District. “In Putnam, we are a small county and when you look at this specific instance, the amount of money wasted by the governor exceeds the entire operating budget of Putnam County. We the people are hurting – we have to find ways to initiate relief through our taxes, and this definitely is not one of them.”

“I’m here today as a mom of four, and the vice-chair of the Putnam County chapter of Mom’s for Liberty,” said Abby O’Brien, parent and Moms for Liberty Vice-Chair. “We advocate for parental rights at all levels of government. Over the last few years, parents have seen and felt the continuous overstepping of our rights to make important decisions for our children. We have lost all trust. Now, we have come to find out that there has been even more deceit – a potential ‘pay-to-play’ scheme disguised as what was so needed to get our children back into school after the pandemic. These are our children, and they are not to be used to make a profit.”

“As a mother of four, I find it unacceptable to use children and families who are suffering financially as political pawns in Governor Hochul’s ‘pay-to-play’ scheme,” says Erin Lee Crowley, parent in Mahopac Central School District. We are facing record inflation which is causing a migratory effect on our great state. Checks and balances must be upheld in Albany as the Governor’s promises of transparency have clearly been forgotten.”

“It is our duty as elected officials to always act in a fiscally responsible manner and respect the hard-earned dollars of taxpayer’s we represent. The deal that our state agreed to contradicts those principles 

Earlier this month, Byrne joined his Republican colleagues of the Ways & Means Committee calling for an immediate committee hearing. 

A copy of the letter Byrne signed onto from this month is available here

A copy of the video from the press conference is available here.

The above information was previously distributed and made public for immediate release by the Office of Assemblyman Kevin Byrne