Hochul declared COVID emergency days after donor tied to $637M rapid-test deal held fundraiser

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Political donor Charle Tebele hosted a campaign fundraiser for Gov. Kathy Hochul last November — just four days before she declared a state of emergency that paved the way for his company to receive $637 million in no-bid state contracts.

The stunning revelation — uncovered by the Times Union on Tuesday — has sparked renewed calls for state or federal officials to investigate the alleged pay-to-play scheme involving New Jersey-based distributor Digital Gadgets, which was inked just weeks after the Nov. 22 fundraiser.

The state bought 52 million tests from Digital Gadgets at roughly twice the price paid by places like California that bought directly from a manufacturer — all while Tebele and family members funneled $300,000 to Hochul’s campaign.

“Kathy Hochul gave a no-bid $600M+ contract to a top campaign supporter after she unilaterally suspended NY’s competitive bidding law. The same day the donor offered to be the middle man for the COVID tests, Hochul agreed to pay twice the price,” her Republican challenger, US Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) of Suffolk County, tweeted Tuesday.

“Where’s the AG, DA, & Comptroller?” he added.

Kathy Hochul.
Gov. Kathy Hochul received $300,000 in donations tied to Charlie Tebele and his family.

Charlie Tebele.
Charlie Tebele is CEO and founder of Digital Gadgets.

COVID tests.
The Hochul administration paid Digital Gadgets roughly twice the going rate for rapid tests bought by other states like California.

State records show Tebele gave $2,000 to Hochul in May 2021 while she was still lieutenant governor under Andrew Cuomo while he was battling for his political life amid a litany of scandals that led him to resign in August 2021.

He gave $25,000 more on Nov. 9 before holding the Nov. 22 fundraiser where his wife Nancy Tebele – a sales executive at Digital Gadgets, according to her LinkedIn – gave Hochul $18,000 while Charlie Tebele chipped in $5,150 more, public records show.

Right around that time, the couple’s son began working for Hochul’s campaign as an intern before landing a paid gig as a “finance associate” for her campaign in May 2022, according to his LinkedIn.

Hochul declared a state of emergency four days later on Nov. 26, suspending procurement rules that might have blocked or held up the deal with Digital Gadgets, which the Times Union reported began receiving payments the following month.

Charlie Tebele dropped $25,000 more on her campaign in February, and $4,700 in April when he hosted another fundraiser for the governor about two weeks before the state made a final installment on the $637 million deal, according to the paper.

Records show he gave another $7,850 in May, and $20,000 to her running mate, Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado on June 20.

Nancy Tebele similarly dumped $94,300 on Hochul, Delgado and ex-Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, who Delgado replaced this spring following her first LG’s federal indictment in relation to alleged campaign finance.

Tebele and his family have given Hochul, Delgado and Benjamin a total of $333,000, according to records from the state Board of Elections, before Hochul formally ended the state of emergency earlier this month.

The Hochul administration has justified the payments by saying it needed to buy rapid tests quickly to keep schools open amid a surge in COVID-19 cases – though many of the tests were still not used months after they were bought, the Times Union previously reported.

“Governor Hochul did not oversee the procurement process and was not involved in the day-to-day procurement decisions. She simply instructed her team to purchase as many available tests as possible to meet the tremendous need across the state, and they did exactly that to keep New Yorkers safe,” Hochul administration spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays said in a statement.

She declined to directly say whether “team” included the entire administration or in the Executive Chamber as well as repeated questions about whether anyone from her campaign or Tebele contacted the administration to discuss the controversial deal or state of emergency.

Her campaign has previously denied wrongdoing but did not provide comment Tuesday.

“As we have always said, campaign donations do not have any influence on government decisions and we reject any implication otherwise,” Crampton-Hays told The Post.

A spokesman for Tebele denied he or anyone at Digital Gadgets “communicated in any way with the Governor or the Campaign about tests, the emergency or any other company business,” according to a statement.

The ongoing cascade of revelations surrounding the deal have added fuel to Republican attacks about Hochul and alleged pay-to-play schemes that range from rapid tests to Medicaid transportation contracts to planned skyscrapers on the West Side of Manhattan.

“This was a brazenly illegal kickback scheme that defrauded taxpayers to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. It needs to be criminally investigated, but the very least she must do is to give away this ill-gotten campaign cash,” GOP state Chair Nick Langworthy said in a statement Tuesday.




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