ALBANY — State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said Tuesday that her Democratic supermajority will not probe Gov. Kathy Hochul — despite mounting evidence of a $637 million pay-to-play scheme involving a donor tied to $300,000 in campaign cash to the governor.
“I take her at her word,” Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said about the governor’s ongoing denials of wrongdoing.
“We have to remember – I think all of us do – where we were when we had to figure out what to do to protect the people of New York and you know, getting the COVID tests was a paramount importance,” Stewart-Cousins added while echoing Hochul’s past rationale for the deal.
The apparent effort to cover for her fellow Democrat comes after months in which Republicans have called for colleagues across the aisle to probe the matter.
“You’re going to take somebody’s word on it when you’re talking about fraud and corruption?” state Sen. Tom O’Mara (R-Bath) said incredulously in response to Stewart-Cousins.
The NJ-based Digital Gadgets received a no-bid contract for COVID-19 rapid tests in late 2021 after its founder, Charlie Tebele, hosted a campaign fundraiser for Hochul, who made the deal possible by suspending normal state contracting rules amid a spike in coronavirus cases.
Tebele, who has denied wrongdoing, cited a conversation with Hochul about “COVID-19 tests” in an email to her administration highlighting available supplies days before the company got a $338 million payment from the state, the Buffalo News revealed Monday.
“I read that the governor wants to be able to mail instant Covid tests to peoples [sic] homes,” Tebele wrote. “My company has the Covid tests in stock and can work with the State to ship them individually to peoples [sic] home – the same day we receive the order,” Tebele wrote.
A spokeswoman has said that Hochul has no memory of speaking with Tebele, whose company reportedly charged New York nearly twice as much for the tests as other states paid, at the fundraiser.
“There should have been a hearing on this months ago,” Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay (R-Fulton), one of the Republican legislators who has previously called for an investigation into the matter, told The Post Monday.
“With every new detail that’s reported, it becomes more clear that the governor has been less than forthcoming about an arrangement that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars,” he added. “It’s time Democrats in the Legislature do their job and ask some unpleasant questions.”
A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) has not responded to repeated inquiries about whether his chamber has any interest in examining the alleged pay-to-play scheme.
State Attorney General Letitia James, who has investigated price gouging in the past, likewise has made no moves to probe the matter.
It remains unclear whether any prosecutors are eyeing the controversial deal or whether state-level officials like Inspector General Lucy Lang, whose office probes malfeasance within state agencies, might weigh in.
O’Mara and other Republicans have said that someone must find the facts on curious set of circumstances that led to the $637 million deal for rapid tests that Hochul has continued to defend.
“It was either a very, very poorly negotiated contract – or it was corruption,” O’Mara said.