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My Turn - COVID-19 fosters fraud
Thomas Vaughn

As Americans continue to cope with the COVID-19 virus crisis, unprincipled opportunists are exploiting the crisis for financial and personal gain.

The most egregious example I’ve found is the strange case of Yaron Oren-Pines. This Silicon Valley electrical engineer with zero background in medical supplies managed to scam New York state out of $69.1 million in late March for 1,450 ventilators. Math is not my forte, but I think that comes to $47,656 per ventilator, or at least three times the cost of comparable high-end models.

To add insult to injury, Oren-Pines never delivered a single ventilator. Instead, he took the money and reneged on his promise. Reportedly, this deal was struck after he “sent a single tweet to President Donald Trump claiming he could provide ventilators for the coronavirus pandemic.” He tweeted, “We can supply ICU Ventilators, invasive and noninvasive. Have someone call me URGENT.”

Who passed the offer on to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo depends on whom you ask. However, one thing is clear, Cuomo took the bait and went to extraordinary measures to seal the deal. 

Ordinarily, contractual transactions of this kind require products, goods or services to be delivered before they are paid for. But, with the stroke of a pen, Gov. Cuomo signed an executive order eliminating this requirement in the Oren-Pines contract.

Cuomo fancies himself to be a capable, competent, even visionary, Empire State governor.

To paraphrase that great philosopher, Dierks Bentley, what was he thinking when he failed to fully vet the shyster Oren-Pines? One thing he wasn’t thinking about was his duty to be a careful shepherd of the taxpayers’ money entrusted to him.

This “pig in a poke” payment to Oren-Pines was actually the most of many unvetted procurements made by the free-wheeling New York Department of Health, thanks to Gov. Cuomo’s executive order issued in March. His order enabled the department to pay for goods before receiving them. The hope was this would expedite the delivery of medical equipment and supplies direly needed by New York hospitals in order to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

With due respect, Cuomo’s intent, implemented by his minions, had the opposite effect in the Oren-Pines fiasco. With the money in hand, his piggish appetite was sated. Besides, he had no ventilators anyway. Still, according to  New York state records, Cuomo’s Health Department “issued 77 checks for $1 million or more for medical supplies between March 19 and April 27, totaling up to nearly $735 million.” I trust the recipients of this largesse delivered their goods before they cashed their checks, but I fear they didn’t.

Maybe Cuomo and his cronies will come clean on all this and prove me wrong. That would be the right thing for them to do.

Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at