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Shady Executive Got $4.5 Million Federal Mask Deal Despite FTC Sanctions

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

Desperate to acquire masks to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, two federal agencies gave nearly $20 million in contracts to a newly formed California company without realizing it was partly run by a man whose business activities were under sanction by the Federal Trade Commission, court records show.

On Tuesday, a U.S. District Court judge froze the company's assets, most of which had come from the Department of Veterans Affairs in a $5.4 million mask deal. A story by ProPublica revealed Jason Cardiff's role in operating VPL Medical LLC in June.

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Trump Administration Paid Millions To Sketchy Supplier For Useless Test Tubes

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

Since May, the Trump administration has paid a fledgling Texas company $7.3 million for test tubes needed in tracking the spread of the coronavirus nationwide. But, instead of the standard vials, Fillakit LLC has supplied plastic tubes made for bottling soda, which state health officials say are unusable.

The state officials say that these “preforms," which are designed to be expanded with heat and pressure into 2-liter soda bottles, don't fit the racks used in laboratory analysis of test samples. Even if the bottles were the right size, experts say, the company's process likely contaminated the tubes and could yield false test results. Fillakit employees, some not wearing masks, gathered the miniature soda bottles with snow shovels and dumped them into plastic bins before squirting saline into them, all in the open air, according to former employees and ProPublica's observation of the company's operations.

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Hundreds Of Federal Coronavirus Contractors Were Hired Without Bids — Or Qualifications

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

A firm set up by a former telemarketer who once settled federal fraud charges for $2.7 million. A vodka distributor accused in a pending lawsuit of overstating its projected sales. An aspiring weapons dealer operating out of a single-family home.

These three privately held companies are part of the new medical supply chain, offered a total of almost $74 million by the federal government to find and rapidly deliver vital protective equipment and COVID-19 testing supplies across the U.S. While there's no evidence that they obtained their deals through political connections, none of the three had to bid against competing firms. One has already lost its contract for lack of performance; it's unclear if the other two can fulfill their orders on time, or at all.

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How ‘Pirates’ Caused Supply Delays That Led To VA Deaths

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

Before embarking on a 36-hour tour through an underground of contractors and middlemen trying to make a buck on the nation's desperate need for masks, entrepreneur Robert Stewart Jr. offered an unusual caveat.

“I'm talking with you against the advice of my attorney," the man in the shiny gray suit, an American Flag button with the word “VETERAN" pinned to his blazer, said as we boarded a private jet Saturday from the executive wing at Dulles International Airport.

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White House Pushed FEMA To Let Biggest Pandemic Contract Without Bids

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

Last month, as a deadly new virus swept over the globe, one Canadian defense contractor predicted on an earnings call that it would lead to a big business opportunity in the U.S. Thanks to the White House, that bet paid off just a few weeks later in a $96 million no-bid deal.

In an unusual move, even in times of disaster, the White House stepped into the federal purchasing process, ordering the Federal Emergency Management Agency to award a contract to AirBoss of America. The Trump administration has rushed through hundreds of deals to address the pandemic without the usual oversight, more than $760 million reported as of this week, but the AirBoss transaction is the single largest no-bid purchase, a ProPublica analysis of federal purchasing data found.

While FEMA placed the order, it was directed to do so by the White House, ProPublica found.

It is unclear why the White House chose AirBoss for the protective equipment, which is similar to products made by other vendors.

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