Florida emergency management accused of stiffing contractor for COVID test kits

ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida’s Division of Emergency Management stiffed a private contractor for some $4.4 million in COVID-19 test kits during the state’s first weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, a new lawsuit claims.

The suit, announced Thursday, says the state agreed to order some 600,000 test kits in March 2020 — a time when public health officials were still scrambling to respond to the potentially deadly virus. Despite emails from the state that appear to confirm the purchase, though, the Division of Emergency Management ultimately accepted and paid for only a third of the tests.

“Everyone, from individuals to the smallest of small businesses to the largest of entities like the state of Florida, is bound to honor the contracts they sign,” read a statement by attorneys John Morgan and Thomas Cargill, whose Morgan & Morgan Business Trial Group filed the lawsuit. “Our client expended considerable resources and effort to fulfill two huge COVID-19 test orders during a time when those critically needed tests were in short supply. … We are ready to fight to compel the Department of Emergency Management to uphold their end of the bargain.”

Neither the Division of Emergency Management nor its former director, Jared Moskowitz — a Broward County Democrat now running for Congress — responded to requests for comment.

The lawsuit was filed in the Second Judicial Circuit Court in Leon County.

On March 22, 2020, the suit claims, the state’s Division of Emergency Management agreed to purchase 200,000 COVID viral sample collection kits from Essential Diagnostics, LLC, for $2.2 million through an agent, Global Innovative Concepts. Payment was due within 45 days of delivery.

But just two days later, the suit says, Moskowitz and another state official requested more test kits from Global. In response, Global offered to provide an additional 400,000 kits for another $4.4 million and sent the state a purchase order. Under the alleged deal, the state had to pay half of the money up front — which the lawsuit says it did — and the remainder within 45 days of delivery.

But the second purchase order doesn’t appear to have been signed. Instead, Moskowitz sent a letter to Essential Diagnostics agreeing to the deal, the suit alleges, and a check was issued for $2.2 million on March 25, 2020. By the first week in April, however, another state official — Jared Rosenstein, legislative affairs director for the division — seems to be confused over the agreement, saying the state won’t pay for the additional 400,000 kits until all have been delivered.

“Global … was able to secure a much-needed product during the peak of COVID test demands, and it did so relying on DEM’s promise,” the complaint says.

The lawsuit seeks damages, interest and other costs.

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