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Comptroller's report concludes Erie County may have overpaid contractor for COVID-related services; lawmaker calls for additional audits

A lack of oversight and sloppiness by Erie County's health department may have led to loss of $720,000.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — An Erie County legislator is calling for additional audits of contracts the county entered into as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This comes after the county's comptroller determined a company was paid $720,000 without proper documentation to show that work was performed.

Last year the county hired Buffalo Homecare to assist in administering COVID shots and the county's test to stay program for school children. 

Shortly after he took office this year, Erie County Comptroller Kevin Hardwick says an employee of the company contacted the county to say something might been awry in the billing, touching off an investigation.

Also of concern was that the payouts were approved by the county's health department under the direction of the health commissioner, Dr. Gale Burstein, and then "rubberstamped" by the prior comptroller.

"Absolutely, it shouldn't have happened," Hardwick said. "I mean, part of it can be attributed to the fact that we were in the midst of the COVID epidemic and there was pressure to get things done, and get them done now. But that doesn't excuse the fact that we weren't as good as we should have been, and we have to do better."

"We had hundreds of millions of dollars that were being filtered through Erie County government without any legislative approval or oversight," noted County Legislator Joe Lorigo, who heads the republican's minority caucus.

"Now the first contract to be audited has a more than half-million dollar discrepancy. I would imagine that if we look at other ones we might have similar situations."

According to Hardwick, as the county tries to get the money back, it has halted payment of outstanding invoices to Buffalo Homecare until the issue is resolved.

2 On Your Side left a message for the company's CEO Igor Yuzbashev in an attempt to get is side of things. As of Friday evening he hadn't returned the call, but did tell The Buffalo News that he can account for all of his billing claims.

Lorigo says he wants more audits when it comes to county COVID spending, but Hardwick says formal audits have very rigid standards that have to be adhered to, and take a great of time.

Hardwick believes a more informal analysis of the COVID contracts would be a better way to go, and allow for a larger volume of review.

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