• President tweeted about the need for ventilators on March 27
  • Silicon Valley engineer with 74 followers replied he could help
  • New York paid him $69.1 million for ventilators they never received

When President Donald Trump lambasted General Motors and Ford Motor on March 27 for the slow progress in manufacturing ventilators to help the COVID-19 patients fast filling hospitals across the country, a Silicon Valley engineer replied to the tweet with an offer to supply the life-saving equipment. A month later, New York is trying to recoup the $69 million it paid to Yaron Oren-Pines for the ventilators that never arrived.

A New York state official told BuzzFeed News that the businessman was recommended by the White House task force on coronavirus. A spokeswoman for Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the task force, said they were never involved. Oren-Pines refused to comment.

It all started with a headline-grabbing tweet from the President: “General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!! FORD, GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!!”

Oren-Pines, with just 74 followers on Twitter at the time, was one of thousands to reply: “We can supply ICU Ventilators, invasive and noninvasive. Have someone call me URGENT.”

Three days later, the state of New York paid him $69.1 million for 1,450 ventilators, which comes out to triple the standard retail price for high-end ventilator models. The New York state official BuzzFeed News spoke to said that “[Oren-Pines] was recommended to us by the White House coronavirus task force because they were doing business with him as well. I think everyone was genuinely trying to help each other out and get supplies.”

US President Donald Trump said he may ask China for 'very substantial' damages because of the coronavirus pandemic
US President Donald Trump said he may ask China for 'very substantial' damages because of the coronavirus pandemic AFP / MANDEL NGAN

BuzzFeed News reached out to the White House for a comment on their reporting and received this statement from Katie Miller, a spokeswoman for Pence, after their report was published: “The White House Coronavirus Task Force was never informed of this contract and was not involved in it at all.”

A month after New York paid out $69.1 million, the state canceled the contract and is currently attempting to recoup their payment made to the Silicon Valley Engineer. When BuzzFeed News reached out to Oren-Pines, he said: “neither me nor my company is providing any comment on this.”

The March 30 payment came via an executive order from Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, and it was the largest payment ever made by the New York Department of Public Health. Senior Cuomo adviser Rich Azzopardi defended the move to BuzzFeed News, saying “We had no choice but to overturn every rock to find ventilators and other needed equipment.”