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California paid 45% less for the same COVID-19 tests that New York state bought from a company tied to $300,000 in campaign donations to Gov. Kathy Hochul — and watchdogs are calling for answers.
“The more we know the worse it looks,” John Kaehny, executive director of  Reinvent Albany, said while renewing his call for an investigation into the $637 million in state business paid to the New Jersey-based Digital Gadgets.
“This is a big deal. There is a lot of money and it looks really, really bad and there is a dark cloud of pay-to-play hanging over this – and it’s not going to go away.”
The revelation, first reported by the Times Union, that New York taxpayers getting soaked on the test purchases is just the latest instance of alleged corruption involving the Democratic incumbent ahead of the Nov. 8 election.
Kaehny is hardly the only Albany watcher calling for state or federal officials to probe how the New Jersey-based Digital Gadgets was able to charge the state nearly twice as much for rapid tests as the Omicron variant swept across the state last year.
“New Yorkers are supposed to believe it’s pure coincidence Gov. Hochul bought COVID tests for $12.25 apiece from a major donor, when other companies offered tests at half that price?” Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay (R-Oswego) said in a statement.
“This is negligence, incompetence or blatant corruption — maybe all three. Either way, it demands answers,” he added.
Spokespeople for state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie did not respond to requests for comment.
Cutting out the Hochul-friendly middleman might have saved the Empire State as much as $286 million out of the $637 million in total payments to the company for 52 million tests, according to the Times Union Friday.
A spokesman for Attorney General Letitia James – who has made political hay out of past investigations into reported price gouging – declined to comment.

Digital Gadgets founder Charlie Tebele and his family gave $70,000 to her campaign before landing the contract and $227,000 in total once a deal got inked, with Tebele — who has denied wrongdoing — hosting a fundraiser for the governor last April, according to the upstate newspaper.
The company has denied milking New York taxpayers by saying that the high price they paid for rapid tests was necessary given the circumstances when it began selling the Empire State tests three weeks before California bought the same tests from a supplier.
Spokesman John Gallagher declined to say how much money the company made from the deal – some of which indirectly went into Hochul’s campaign war chest via subsequent donations tied to Tebele.
“The company made nowhere near $286 million in profit and any implication to the contrary is misleading and willfully disregards the fact that Digital Gadgets paid more per unit for AccessBio tests than the state of California did because of the size and the date of the order, risked hundreds of millions of dollars in capital costs to fill an order of this size, incurred millions of dollars in costs to charter aircraft and cover overtime for employees over Christmas and New Year’s, and then also had to meet the State’s subsequent requirement for tests to have an extended expiration date – requiring the additional sourcing of materials,” Gallagher said in a statement.
A government spokeswoman for Hochul and her campaign did not respond to requests for comment Friday while the state Department of Health reiterated past claims that the seriousness of the omicron wave and a lack of time accounted for the high price paid for the tests as Hochul pushed to keep schools open in early 2022.
The administration has yet to say why it did not pursue direct purchases from the manufacturer like California as her increasingly frustrated critics.
“Yes, New York was in a crisis, but so was the rest of the country, and other states and the federal government paid nowhere near what New York did for the same test,” Kaehny, who wants the feds to investigate the matter, said. 
The revelation adds to growing evidence that the Hochul administration gave preferential treatment to campaign donors despite her calls to make state government more ethical after replacing disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned last year amid a litany of scandals.
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“Even though she promised an open and transparent administration, this apple didn’t fall far from the corrupt Cuomo tree,” state Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt (R-Niagara) told The Post.
A spokesman for state Inspector General Lucy Lang, whose office oversees probes into wrongdoing by state agencies, would not confirm or deny that her office was eyeing the much-criticized deal with Digital Gadgets.
Hochul has denied any wrongdoing in the growing scandal surrounding the rapid testing purchases alongside other alleged pay-to-play schemes involving matters like Medicaid transportation contracts, $600 million in public money for a Buffalo Bills stadium and ongoing efforts to overhaul Penn Station.
Hochul has maintained a huge fundraising advantage over Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican nominee for governor in the Nov. 8 election
“Where are the Legislature’s investigative bodies? Where is the attorney general? The governor needs to be held accountable. The longer her political allies stay silent, the more this looks like Democrats covering up for one of their own,” Barclay said.

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