September 28, 2023


Steps to success

A family donated $300K to Hochul. New York has paid the family business $637M since the end of December.


ALBANY — One New York City family, led by entrepreneur Charlie Tebele, has donated nearly $300,000 to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s campaign.

Records also show that since December, Tebele’s company was paid $637 million in taxpayer funds to provide the state Department of Health — an agency controlled by Hochul — with at-home COVID-19 test kits. The huge expenditure was made without the agency conducting competitive bidding.

Tebele is the longtime owner of Digital Gadgets LLC, a New Jersey-based wholesaler of hoverboards and other electronic devices that sells its wares to companies like the home shopping network QVC. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, the company pivoted to supplying medical equipment, and began landing major government contracts in New York. Though Digital Gadgets has not always delivered as promised, it has continued to reap major government payments, while the family has kept donating heavily to select politicians.

The $637 million from the Department of Health began on  Dec. 30, and the agency made 239 separate payments through March 25 to Tebele’s company, according to state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s OpenBookNY website.

The website, however, provides no record of a formal contract being signed between Digital Gadgets and the Department of Health. Jennifer Freeman, a spokeswoman for DiNapoli’s office, said that no such contract existed: The Department of Health entered into “purchase orders” instead with the company, she said.

“These purchase orders did not come to (DiNapoli’s office) for review and approval,” Freeman said.

On Nov. 26, Hochul had signed an executive order declaring a new COVID-19 state of emergency and suspending certain aspects of state finance law. The order suspended competitive bidding for certain contracts as well as the normal contract review and approval process conducted by DiNapoli’s office, which oversees state government spending.

As the pandemic has subsided and surged, Hochul has extended the executive order on a monthly basis; its current expiration date is Aug. 13. 

A Hochul senior advisor, Bryan Lesswing, said the administration had spent the $637 million to increase at-home testing capacity in order to protect vulnerable New Yorkers from the highly transmissible omicron strain. During last winter’s spike, he said, at-home tests were considered a scarce commodities and global demand was high. 

“Digital Gadgets successfully delivered all the tests the state needed within the requested timeline,” Lesswing said.

There were two purchase orders totaling 52 million tests. The Digital Gadgets prices were for $13 per test in one instance and $11.50 in the other.

“Given the circumstances and the urgency of the situation, the state determined that the price was fair and it was in the state’s best interest to move forward with the procurement,” Lesswing said.

Lesswing said the state contacted multiple vendors and Digital Gadgets was the sole company that could meet the state’s need: Supplying a significant quantity of tests before schools reopened in early January 2022.

The state has also procured tests from seven additional vendors, he said.

An attorney representing Charlie Tebele, Harlan Lazarus, said in a statement that, “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.”

Lazarus said Charlie Tebele had “never had a conversation” with Hochul about the DOH procurement.

A supportive family


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