Entrepreneur Charlie Tebele’s family donated close to $300,000 to Hochul’s campaign, according to an investigative report by the Times Union published Tuesday.
Meanwhile, New York paid hundreds of millions for COVID tests to Tebele’s company, Digital Gadgets. Since December, the New York Health Department has paid Digital Gadgets $637 million in taxpayer funds for COVID test kits, records show.
The health department reportedly did not conduct any competitive bidding before ordering the COVID tests from the company and paying it the enormous sum.
Digital Gadgets, which is based in New Jersey, normally makes and sells electronic devices to the home shopping network QVC and others, the Times Union reported. Like many other companies, the electronics wholesaler began making medical equipment in 2020 in response to the pandemic.
Hochul signed a state of emergency executive order back in November for COVID-related purchases, suspending competitive bidding as well as the contract review and approval process for some spending.
However, there was apparently no formal contract between the health department and Digital Gadgets, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office said, and the department simply made “purchase orders” for the tests.
“DOH entered into 3 purchase orders totaling $637.6 million which served as agreements with Digital Gadgets for medical supplies. These purchase orders did not come to our office for review and approval,” a spokesperson for New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, told Fox Business. “Of this amount, $600K was paid and subsequently refunded from Digital Gadgets to the state.”
The money from the health department to Digital Gadgets was doled out in 239 separate payments from December 30 to March 25, according to the state comptroller’s website.
A Hochul senior advisor, Bryan Lesswing, told the Times Union that the state looked at several vendors, but Digital Gadgets was the only company that could deliver the large amount of COVID tests the state needed before schools reopened in January of this year. New York also bought COVID tests from other vendors, Lesswing said.
An attorney for Tebele told the outlet that Tebele “never had a conversation” with Hochul about the deal.
“At the height of omicron when even the federal government could not supply tests, Mr. Tebele supplied tens of millions of tests to the State of New York in record time,” attorney Harlan Lazarus said.
Tebele and his wife Nancy have a long history as political donors in New York. Both have reportedly donated the maximum amount allowed to Hochul, $69,700.
In recent years, Digital Gadgets has secured several separate lucrative contracts with New York state as well.
The company had at least two contracts for medical equipment with Governor Andrew Cuomo‘s administration, but on a $100,000 contract, no money has been paid out, and on a $600,000 contract, the money was returned, according to the Times Union.
The company also reportedly snagged $119 million in emergency no-bid contracts for COVID equipment at the height of the pandemic in spring 2020 from former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, right after the Tebele family donated about $44,000 to de Blasio’s campaigns and related PACS.
In another detail, both Hochul’s campaign and de Blasio’s presidential campaign reportedly hired a member of the Tebele family, a college student, Hochul paying him $3,700 a month to be a campaign fundraising “finance associate.”
Several of the Tebele family donors are listed in campaign filings as having the same address. State law prohibits political donors from being reimbursed by someone else for campaign donations.
“Mr. Tebele’s children are successful businesspeople in their own right and make political donations independent of their father,” Tebele’s attorney said.