Once underway, the Swift Rapid Testing hustle followed a pattern witnessed in its development. While it was welcome, RIOC set up the site with apparent disregard for purchasing guidelines. An awkward cover up followed, months later.
By David Stone
This is Part Two. Read Part One here.
Swift Rapid Testing Off to a Bumpy Start
RIOC’s Swift Rapid Testing Site opened on January 20th, and the state crowed about its success. But its own reports, discovered in a FOIL response, suggest a false front out of the gate. A document “RIOC COVID Clinic Stats,” claims 800 tests that week or 200 per day, Wednesday thru Saturday.
The numbers are suspicious because every day hits a round number divisible by 10: 260, 200, 160, 180. That’s statistically improbable, at best, but observation made the numbers even less credible. The photo above was taken early in the afternoon on Thursday, when the site reported 25 tests on average, every hour. But not a single patient could be found.
There were more, in fact, PSD officers – 3 – at the location than patients. That included one barking for customers on the sidewalk out front.
Why put up false numbers from Day One? Whose butt was on the line?
Then, The Time Sheets
For nonprofits getting about $10K each in public purchase grants, RIOC demands applications at least a dozen pages long and progress reports precisely matching requests before paying up. But for Swift Rapid Testing, which got more money than all the nonprofits combined, the requirements were very low.
All Swift need do was hand in signed timesheets for each employee, approved by an immediate supervisor. That’s where the fun started because the first submitted was for a week beginning January 13th, although the site did not open until a week later. Swift even asked for payments covering a national holiday, Martin Luther King Day, on January 16th. But we celebrate that holiday on the 18th, also before the site opened.
Timesheets continue while the rapid testing site is operating, but there’s something remarkable about them. They show every employee working precise 9 to 5 shifts for four days, every week. No one leaves early or comes in late, and there are no substitutions for a day off.
What should catch RIOC’s eye, but didn’t, is the number of apparent forgeries. Swift’s founding partner, Christian Bannerman, for example, sports three very different signatures and seems to misspell his own name at least once.
But for sheer gall, consider this timesheet from March 8th…
Scroll down. You’ll find that hard working administrator Michael Newman doubled up, working the same shift twice for four days straight. No wonder his signatures don’t match. Did fatigue cause an alternative personality to emerge?
Months Late, RIOC Scrambles for Cover
The first official sign of trouble, besides the strange timesheets and unbelievable reports on usage, is a A sole source procurement is one in which only one vendor can supply the commodities or services required by an agency.belated attempt by RIOC purchasing manager Amy Firestein to get Swift excused from MWBE requirements.
“RIOC seeks to open a COVID-19 Vaccine site,” she writes and, for the first time, identifies Swift as a “Single Source.” Other vendors, she adds, “could not fulfill all requirements,” although Swift was the least qualified of identified potential vendors.
What’s striking about this is that, in his proposal for the rapid testing site, Bannerman identified Swift as “a minority owned company.”
And RIOC does not identify any other bidders nor a required public solicitation. Nor, as with the existing contract, is there any hint of specifications. But Firestein estimates giving Swift $100,000 per month.
Because RIOC failed to disclose any other material regarding the vaccine site, we don’t know if they signed a contract or what they paid. This certainly violates New York State Freedom of Information guidelines and, once again, raises questions about a cover up.
People with nothing to hide don’t hide anything. And “Stupid people keep doing stupid things,” according to Frank Farance.
And, Oh Yeah, We’re Supposed To Get Board Approval
Requesting RIOC board approval, after the fact, in April was odd because, as everyone knows, the lazy board approves everything tossed on the table. Unanimously. But RIOC issued a purchase order for $159,000 in January without a board sign off and in violation of state purchasing regulations.
The request for board approval, presented by Mary Cunneen, including an additional $200K for future work, followed an attempted backtrack at meeting state requirements. In March, Firestein, who signed the original purchase order in January, requested an exemption from advertising in the NYS Contract Reporter. The Contract Reporter launched in the 1990s, seeking to open up bidding, lower award costs and avoid corruption. Virtually all purchasing over $50K requires an ad in the Reporter or an exemption.
RIOC’s Swift Rapid Testing had neither, and so, two months after opening…
Two months after rapid testing began, Firestein rushed after a retroactive exemption for the Swift award. An immediate miscue is in failing to report that the business had been underway for 2 1/2 months already. But there are other glaring issues.
First, Firestein claims that Swift was the “lowest qualified bidder,” although there had not been a formal bidding process, as required by law. But although all proposals appear as informal, Swift’s only proposal supplied by RIOC is for $60,000 per month, higher than Maxim’s $55,680.
In an apparent stab at meeting the three bid minimum, Firestein lists “ProLink” as a bidder. But RIOC was unable to provide any evidence that ProLink bid or was ever involved. Moreover, in Cunneen’s April presentation to the sleepy board, she said that the Department of Health recommended a half-dozen possible vendors. Swift, of course, having no experience, was not one of them.
What happened to those six vendors? Cunneen never said, and predictably, the board did not care enough to ask.
A final screw up…
Finally, in a dizzying switch in direction, Firestein asks for an exemption for Swift as a “Single Source.” After already claiming there was a competitive bid without a Contract Reporter ad, a bid in which Swift was the least qualified of known biddiers.
“A sole source procurement is one in which only one vendor can supply the commodities or services required by an agency.”New York State Office of General Services, Purchasing Guidelines
Conclusion: RIOC Rapid Testing Debacle
Between the few documents RIOC coughed up and the surfeit of others implied but kept hidden, a pattern of deception emerges, and it involves top leadership. An official investigation would surely uncover more.
Unconfirmed reports tell us that a RIOC executive with ties to President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes going back over ten years brought in Swift, thus paving the way for shortcuts and resulting cover ups.
But the simple fact remains that state agencies, like RIOC, are not free to spend public money without oversight, and when they do, someone must answer questions. Accountability depends on it. Otherwise, the rules are just face paint conning taxpayers into believing an open falsehood.
Will any of our elected officials or anyone in Albany demand the transparency they claim to embrace or will it be just more of the same old, same old?
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