In late March, New York state paid an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley $69.1 million for 1,450 ventilators that were never delivered, BuzzFeed News reports.
A state official told BuzzFeed News the engineer, Yaron Oren-Pines, "was recommended to us by the White House coronavirus task force because they were doing business with him as well. I think everyone was genuinely trying to help each other out and get supplies."
On March 27, three days after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said he needed 30,000 ventilators, President Trump tweeted that General Motors and Ford needed to "GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!" Oren-Pines responded to Trump, saying, "We can supply ICU Ventilators, invasive and noninvasive. Have someone call me URGENT." Oren-Pines works in the mobile phone technology industry, BuzzFeed news reports, and does not appear to have any experience with medical devices or government contracting.
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In early March, Cuomo signed an executive order to streamline getting much-needed medical equipment, allowing some payments for ventilators and personal protective equipment to go out before the orders were fulfilled. New York paid Oren-Pines $69.1 million on March 30, with Oren-Pines charging $47,656 for each ventilator — at least triple the price of top-of-the-line devices. This was the largest payment the New York Department of Health has made during the coronavirus pandemic.
With no ventilators ever delivered, the state's contract with Oren-Pines has been terminated, and a spokesperson for the New York Office of General Services told BuzzFeed News "a bulk of the money was returned to the state." Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Cuomo, told BuzzFeed News that New York had "no choice but to overturn every rock to find ventilators and other needed equipment. States were forced to fend for themselves to purchase lifesaving supplies to combat a global pandemic and with all modeling showing a more severe spread of this virus with more hospitalizations and more fatalities."
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