Hochul has no regrets on $637M deal in ‘pay-to-play’ scandal

Gov. Kathy Hochul says she has no regrets about her administration giving $637 million to a COVID rapid testing company tied to $300,000 in campaign cash despite growing outrage over the alleged pay-to-play scheme.

“I would do that all again,” Hochul told reporters in Albany on Wednesday.

“I’m always looking to improve because perception is important to me as well. But the reality is no contribution has ever had an effect on any decision we make. We follow the rules –always have always will,” she added.

Hochul has maintained a big lead in polling over Republican gubernatorial nominee Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Suffolk) despite the litany of alleged schemes involving campaign donors with interests as varied as Medicaid transportation contracts to efforts to overhaul the Penn Station area.

Kathy Hochul
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul faced questions from reporters about the COVID testing contract after delivering remarks at the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services Public Safety Symposium on
Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Albany, N.Y.
Hans Pennink

“Kathy Hochul proudly admits she’d repeat her blatant pay-to-play scheme, and that’s precisely the problem in New York,” Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay said in a statement.

“Saying she’d do it against is the first moment of honest she’s provided in this entire ordeal,” Barclay added.

The comments follows a cascade of revelations about the no-bid deal her administration made late last year with the NJ-based Digital Gadgets, which reportedly charged the state twice as much as other states paid for the same tests, the Times Union has revealed in a series of bombshell reports.

Digital Gadgets founder Charlie Tebele hosted a fundraiser for the governor last November just days before she declared a state of emergency that suspended normal state oversight procedures.

Charlie Tebele
Charlie Tebele’s firm, Digital Gadgets, scored the contract to provide $637 million in apparently overpriced COVID tests as Telebe and his family family donated nearly $300,000 to her campaign

“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, said last week after Hochul dismissed criticism about wasting taxpayer dollars.

And as the money began rolling into Digital Gadgets, founder Charlie Tebele and his family continued giving to her campaign, which also hired his son.

Tebele hosted another fundraiser in April weeks ahead of the final payment on the deal, the upstate paper has reported.

“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,” Tebele spokesman John Gallagher said in an email last week.

Hochul has defended the purchase of 52 million tests, many of which remain unused, by saying the state needs as many as possible to keep schools open as the omicron wave of COVID-19 cases swept across New York at the beginning of the year.

COVD-19 test kits
Political opponents and good government groups say that a major donor to Gov. Kathy Hochul scored a sweetheart deal to provide COVID tests like these.

“They did what they did,” Hochul told The Post when asked whether she was holding anyone responsible for the controversial purchases.

Her comments Wednesday followed a question about what efforts her campaign has made to avoid the appearance of conflict of interests considering ongoing concerns about the jumbo-sized war chest she has built while running for a full term in office.

“In terms of managing our fundraising operations and look at my events, no government staff are allowed there. That is a direct contrast to have past practices,” she said.

Her former political ally, ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, faced criticized for appearing at fundraisers alongside powerful officials like state Budget Director Robert Mujica before he resigned in disgrace amid multiple scandals last year.

“Only the voters can hold her & her administration accountable,” Republican comptroller candidate Paul Rodriguez tweeted Wednesday morning about the pay-to-play scandal amid ongoing silence from top Albany Democrats.

A Zeldin spokeswoman did not provide comment by publication time.

“The governor attended an in-person fundraiser hosted by the donor and hired one of his family members, but claims she was unaware of any connection,” Barclay said.

“It’s laughable,” he added.