New York City officials auctioned $224 million worth of COVID-19 medical equipment for just $500,000, including never-used ventilators as scrap metal.
Much of the supplies are brand new and unopened, receiving a return of five cents on the dollar in taxpayer money. Many items have failed to attract buyers, according to The City.
The ventilators, 3,000 in total, were commissioned in April 2020 by then-mayor Bill de Blasio (D.) for $12 million. They sold to a scrap metal dealer for less than $25,000. De Blasio called their purchase a "story about doing the impossible."
It took 28 truckloads to move the unused devices, which were sold as "non-functioning medical equipment."
The auction comes as President Joe Biden plans to let lapse the federal government's COVID public health emergency on May 11.
"Thankfully, New Yorkers and our heroic frontline medical workers came together to avert some of the worst-case scenarios," said Nick Benson, a spokesman for the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), about the auctioned goods.
City officials were concerned that the public would find out about the rock-bottom auctions, saying New Yorkers would ask "about the city's over-buying during COVID," according to an internal government email obtained by The City.
Companies sold products to the city for inflated prices and now prices continue to be reduced, The City reported:
A Pennsylvania limited liability corporation called LVLM Distribution got paid $5.6 million for "hospital isolation gowns/masks," and last month DCAS offered up a lot of 97,850 of their gowns for $1,000. DCAS got zero bids and put the same lot up again last week, dropping the opening price to $280.
That's a fraction of a penny per gown.
DCAS originally signed a $5.7 million contract to buy millions of isolation gowns from a men's fashion store based in Jersey City called Faded Royalty. Ultimately the firm was paid only $263,000 for whatever gowns they were able to deliver, and last fall DCAS began auctioning them off.
In the first auction, DCAS tried to sell about 176,000 Faded Royalty gowns for $64,000—about $2.75 per gown. It's not clear what happened since DCAS officials wouldn't say, but at a second auction, DCAS's new opening bid was $1,000 for 98,175 Faded Royalty gowns—about a penny per gown.