February 21, 2023 | 5:50 p.m.
City officials auctioned nearly $225 million worth of excess COVID-19 medical equipment and safety gear for just $500,000 — a paltry 0.2 cents on the dollar, according to a stunning report Tuesday.
The low-cost sales included nearly 3,000 mechanical ventilators that cost taxpayers $12 million but were dumped as “non-functional medical equipment for scrap” at a floor price of just $24,600 on 24 January, according to the nonprofit news site The City.
It would have taken 28 truckloads for a Long Island junk dealer to transport the once rare devices, which former Mayor Bill de Blasio said would help the Big Apple “beat this crisis and prepare for the next.”
“It’s a story of doing the impossible,” boasted de Blasio on April 21, 2020. “We had never made a ventilator before – and so we made thousands. We learned that it would take a year – and so we did it in a month.
De Blasio’s administration also overpaid for items including 50,000 face shields at $6.70 each, compared to an average price at the start of the pandemic of $3.67, the city said, citing information from City Comptroller Brad Lander.
They are now part of a massive lot of 701,000 face shields that were reportedly auctioned off last week with an opening bid of just $1,000, or 0.14 cents each.
The city blamed the epic markdowns on de Blasio’s decision to drop all oversight of his panic buying, preventing then-comptroller Scott Stringer from reviewing emergency contracts.
A contract, worth $9.1 million, was reportedly awarded to controversial New Jersey-based digital gadgets for ventilators that the company failed to deliver, then supplied the city with masks N95 instead.
But the first masks he delivered were “poor quality or not FDA-certified,” even though the company was charging $4 each when the average price was $3.10, according to Lander.
Digital Gadgets is owned by Charlie Tebele, a top donor to de Blasio and Governor Kathy Hochul, who are both Democrats.
Last year, it was revealed that Tebele’s company had charged the state $637 million – nearly double the going rate – for COVID-19 test kits under a deal the critics called it “pay-for-play”.
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said last month she rejected Republican calls for an investigation, saying she took Hochul “at his word” that ‘no wrongdoing was involved.
Some of the things the de Blasio administration bought had expiration dates, including 2,800 cases of hand sanitizing wipes that officials tried to sell for $56,000 on Jan. 12, even though the shelf life was due to end Jan. 31, the city said. .
An internal email from July 2022 reportedly showed that an official with the city’s Department of Administrative Services – which handles sales – feared that if the public found out, it would lead to an investigation into “excessive buying during COVID”.
The email also said DCAS had “developed talking points” following “direct consultation” with Mayor Eric Adams’ office, according to The City.
DCAS spokesperson Nick Benson told The City that the pandemic-related spending spree was needed to create a 90-day stockpile of supplies during “a dark and difficult time for all New Yorkers.”
“Fortunately, New Yorkers and our heroic frontline medical workers have come together to avoid some of the worst-case scenarios,” Benson added.
Benson also said some surplus items were donated to Ukraine, Indonesia, Ghana, Haiti, South Africa or non-profit organizations, and auctioning off the rest for a paltry sum “is required by the city charter”.
During an unrelated afternoon press conference at City Hall, Adams blamed the losses on a bureaucratic requirement that excess purchases be sold after 90 days.
“It’s just a bad rule,” he said. “COVID has created an environment that none of us expected and so we had to buy way more than we traditionally would have bought.”
“So somewhere in the charter rule we have to state that in certain circumstances we don’t have to say, ‘Hey, it’s 90 days, let’s get rid of this stuff, whatever the cost is. is associated with it. ”