In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) used his emergency powers to spend more than $1 billion in taxpayer funds to acquire critical medical equipment such as ventilators and PPE in the fight against the virus.
But many of the vendors never fulfilled their end of the bargain, and for several months, his administration has been scrambling to recoup the funds.
What are the details?
The New York Post reported Tuesday that Cuomo's Department of Health was "duped" into buying millions of dollars worth of medical supplies from Chinese firms "and has been forced to hire a law firm in Hong Kong in a bid to recoup the taxpayer money it lost."
The newspaper, which first reported that Cuomo's administration intentionally underreported nursing home deaths during the pandemic, has now reported that the DOH hired the Hong Kong firm Gall Solicitors for $125,000 in an effort to get money back from overseas suppliers.
A Cuomo spokesperson confirmed the contract, saying they hired the firm in late December "to help us pursue recovery of state funds there, related to procurement."
Gall is reportedly trying to get back a $12.5 million deposit Cuomo's administration delivered to a company called Please Me LLC, which had promised 1,000 ventilators to the state despite never selling the devices. The supplier never delivered a single ventilator.
The Post pointed to a New York Times article from December that showed Please Me LLC is a company "whose products include not just small medical devices but also sex toys, children's books and a mask for dry eyes."
The owner of the company, Eddie Sitt, defended his firm to The Times, claiming that medical products were actually his main business. New York officials claim the company asked to substitute the ventilators requested for a different model after the deposit was already made but the state refused. Sitt claims the ventilators were, in fact, shipped to New York but remain in storage amid the dispute.
Cuomo's people are also trying to get $10 million back from a man named Yaron Oren-Pines, whom they paid $69 million for 1,450 ventilators after he tweeted to former President Donald Trump, "We can supply ICU Ventilators, invasive and non-invasive. Have someone call me URGENT." He never delivered, but has thus far returned $59 million of what he was handed by the state.
The Times also reported that at the time of its December report, New York had already recouped $233 million in wasted funds from companies that failed to hold up their end of bargains.
Meanwhile, Cuomo is facing calls to resign from New York Republicans and Democrats alike over the reports of his mishandling of nursing home policies regarding the coronavirus and subsequent allegations of burying the true data. President Joe Biden and the White House has refused to speak on the scandal, after previously saying that Cuomo's response was the "gold standard" among U.S. governors.