Suspicions arise when family donates nearly $300k to Hochul, then their business receives $637M from the state

It’s hard to imagine that New Yorkers could face a more scandal-ridden governor than Andrew Cuomo, but it seems his successor, Gov. Kathy Hochul is doing her very best to one-up him.

The Tebele family of New York City donated nearly $300,000 to Hochul’s campaign, according to a Times Union report.

Charlie Tebele owns a New Jersey-based company called Digital Gadgets LLC, which, up until the onset of COVID-19, was a wholesaler of hoverboards and electronic gizmos that it sold to companies such as QVC.

Like many businesses, Digital Gadgets began supplying medical equipment, and soon it was landing big-money 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 Times Union writes.

So, while Hochul’s campaign received a more than a quarter-million-dollar boost from the Tebeles, Digital Gadgets received a $637 million payout from the Department of Health (DOH), via 239 separate payments between Dec. 30 and March 25, according to OpenBookNY, the website of the state’s comptroller, Tom DiNapoli.

 

What the website does not record is a formal, signed contract between the DOH and Digital Gadgets.

That’s because no such contract exists, says Jennifer Freeman, a spokesperson for DiNapoli’s office. Instead of a contract, the Department of Health entered into “purchase orders” with Tebele’s company, Freeman explained.

“These purchase orders did not come to [DiNapoli’s office] for review and approval,” she said.

And why was the State Comptroller’s office circumvented?

Because, with her November 26 executive order that declared a new COVID-19 state of emergency, “certain aspects of state finance law” were suspended, Times Union reports.

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,” the outlet writes.

That emergency executive order has been extended every month since, with the next expiration date set for August 13.

Brian Lesswing, a senior advisor to Hochul stated that the governor’s administration needed to protect New Yorkers from omicron, and global demand for at-home tests was scarce, so that’s why Digital Gadgets was paid more than a half-a-billion taxpayers’ dollars for 52 million tests via two purchase orders. On one order, Tebele’s company listed the price per test at $13, and $11.50 per test on the other. And according to Lesswing, “Digital Gadgets successfully delivered all the tests the state needed within the requested timeline.”

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

The state required a large number of tests before the January 2022 start of schools reopening and, despite contacting multiple vendors, Digital Gadgets was the only company that could meet the state’s needs, Lesswing said, adding that seven additional vendors have supplied the state with tests.

 

Harlan Lazarus is Charlie Tebele’s lawyer.

In a statement, Lazurus said, “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.

According to the attorney, Tebele “never had a conversation” with Hochul about the DOH’s purchase orders.

But Digital Gadgets has a history of trying and failing to land government contracts from New York, and when it was successful, it reportedly failed to follow through.

In March 2020, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s DOH entered into a $600,000 contract for pandemic-related medical equipment with Tebele’s company, but OpenBookNY indicates the money was returned after two months.

Around the same time, Digital Gadgets secured a $119 million in emergency no-bid contracts from New York City’s former Mayor, Bill de Blassio for, among other things, masks and ventilators after Tebele’s family ponied up $44,000 in donations to the disgraced politician’s campaigns and political action committees.

The Big Apple was promised 2,000 ventilators and 200,000 “breathing kits,” and when not one of either materialized, a $91 million contract was cancelled.

And in 2021, also under Cuomo, a $100,000 contract was inked through the state Office of General Services for personal protective equipment, but DiNapoli’s website shows that no money from that contract has been paid.

And then there’s the Tebele family’s support of Gov. Hochul.

After both Charlie Tebele and his wife Nancy maxed out their $69,700 donation limit to Hochul, Tebele family members have crawled out of the woodwork to throw cash at the governor.

On one day, June 24, at least five members of the Tebele family donated $104,000.

Meanwhile, in May, Hochul’s campaign hired one young Tebele family member as a paid campaign fundraising “finance associate” to the tune of around $3,700 a month.

James Tebele had also worked for de Blasio’s 2020 presidential campaign, to which a bevy of Tebele’s contributed.

Both James and Mathieu Tebele, who contributed a whopping $47,000 to Hochul’s campaign, list the same Manhattan address as that of Charlie and Nancy Tebele, as does Leon Tebele, reportedly an employee of Digital Gadgets, who provided Hochul’s campaign with another $27,000.

“Under state law, a political donor cannot be reimbursed by another individual or entity for making a campaign contribution — a tactic that’s been used in the past by donors looking to skirt contribution limits,” the Times Union reports.

Regarding the Tebele family’s generosity towards Hochul, Lazarus stated, “Mr. Tebele’s children are successful businesspeople in their own right and make political donations independent of their father.”

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