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As the global health crisis rages on, coronavirus scams have proliferated, with the latest involving ventilators.
New York state paid $69.1 million to a man to produce ventilators, even though he had no medical supply expertise—and the ventilators ultimately never arrived, BuzzFeed News reports. On March 27, as the COVID-19 pandemic was underway, Donald Trump was pushing for Ford and General Motors to “start making ventilators, now!” according to a Tweet.
The man in question, Yaron Oren-Pines, an electrical engineer based in Silicon Valley, responded, “We can supply ICU Ventilators, invasive and noninvasive. Have someone call me URGENT.”
Three days after that tweet, New York paid Oren-Pines $69.1 million for 1,450 ventilators, which is $47,656 per ventilator, around triple the standard price for high-end models. It was the single largest payment that the state’s health department has made under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order to stockpile medical equipment.
Oren-Pines was reportedly recommended to New York state by the White House coronavirus task force “because they were doing business with him as well,” an official said. However, it’s uncertain who suggested Oren-Pines. Katie Miller, a spokeswoman for Vice President Pence, said that “the White House Coronavirus Task Force was never informed of this contract and was not involved in it at all.”
New York has dissolved its contract with Oren-Pines and is trying to get its money back, though officials won't disclose how much they've successfully recovered. When contacted by BuzzFeed, Oren-Pines said via phone before hanging up, “Neither me nor my company is providing any comment on this."
New York was in such a dire need for ventilators and equipment that Cuomo’s executive order permitted the state to pay for supplies before the order was fulfilled. From March 19 to April 27, New York state’s health department paid $735 million for medical supplies, often signing contracts with firms that had very little experience in medicine. Since then, the state has amassed the reserves it needs.