By DANIEL DUCASSI, FloridaBulldog.org
Florida’s top emergency management official personally signed off on a major, no-bid COVID-19 testing contract with an unqualified company run by a confessed thief — while the man who supposedly signed for the company says the signature on the contract isn’t his, and he has nothing to do with the firm.
Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) provided a copy of the contract nearly two months after Florida Bulldog requested it, and days after publishing a story about how the state was withholding the contract with Indur Services, along with other no-bid, coronavirus-related contracts. Emails provided by the governor’s office this month reveal that various high-level administration officials were involved in the contract.
Jared Moskowitz, FDEM director, signed a “Laboratory Services Agreement” worth $11.3 million with Indur Services — a Texas-based health coaching company — on April 22 to perform up to 10,000 COVID-19 tests per day for the state. FDEM is housed within the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who bragged in a press conference that day about the contract.
But state officials got taken for a ride. Investigators with the Texas Department of Insurance have described the founder and CEO of Texas-based Indur, Brandt Beal, as a “con artist.” Beal pleaded guilty last year to two different financial felonies related to insurance fraud schemes, and was sentenced to 10 years of probation in each case.
Meanwhile, his company, which offers customers health advice, planning and nutrition supplements, is not certified to perform lab testing.
DeSantis staff duped
An April 28 email from Florida Department of Health General Counsel Louise St. Laurent to other DeSantis administration lawyers, including DeSantis Deputy General Counsel Nicholas Primrose, noted that Indur lied to them about the firm’s qualifications. St. Laurent pointed out subtle changes that were made to the contract by Indur before it was signed to reference Indur’s “lab companies.” But, St. Laurent noted, “This was not done with our understanding that they were not a lab. Indeed, they held themselves out and represented such to all of us.”
St. Laurent did not answer Florida Bulldog’s questions about her role in the contract.
The state canceled the testing portion of the contract, but still bought more than $2 million worth of testing supplies from Indur.
Moskowitz, a former Democratic state representative from Coral Springs who has refused to speak about his role in the contract — he hung up on a Florida Bulldog reporter when asked about it — did not answer emailed questions about what efforts he took to research the company before signing the testing deal, or why the state continued to do business with Indur even though the company had misrepresented itself.
FDEM spokesman Jason Mahon stated that Moskowitz “is not personally involved in negotiating lab contracts,” but did not specifically address Moskowitz’s role in the Indur contract and did not explain why Moskowitz’s signature is on the $11.3-million cost estimate.
Mahon tried to sweep the contract under the rug when first asked about it in May, asserting that the state did not “currently” have a testing deal with Indur while omitting the fact that Moskowitz had signed such a deal.
Besides Beal’s criminal record and his firm’s lack of qualifications, there was another problem with the contract: The man who allegedly negotiated with state officials and supposedly signed for the firm as vice president said the signature isn’t his and insisted that he has never represented the company.
Blayne Beal, Brandt Beal’s brother, holds a position in the office of the president at Texas Tech University. Blayne Beal was adamant in conversations with Florida Bulldog that, “I have absolutely zero involvement with my brother and his business.”
However, someone representing himself as “Blayne Beal” was heading up negotiations for the firm’s testing deals. An email between Florida Department of Health Chief of Staff Courtney Coppola shows she asked “Blayne” questions about the type of tests the firm would be using for the contract. Another email shows Deputy General Counsel Erik Sayler helped coordinate the state’s management of the contract and referenced “Blayne Beal” as the firm’s “VP.”
Neither Coppola nor Sayler answered Florida Bulldog’s questions about their involvement in the contract.
At some point, Indur sought out an actual lab company — Bellingham, WA-based Northwest Pathology — to perform the work that state officials expected Indur to perform. Northwest Pathology Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Bull said a representative for Indur calling himself “Blayne Beal” contacted her “late on a Friday afternoon” quickly seeking a deal for the lab to provide 10,000 COVID-19 tests a day.
Blayne Beal clarified that he never called Northwest Pathology, or anyone at all, on behalf of Indur. Asked whether he had reached out to his brother or requested that Indur stop using his name, Blayne Beal stated only that, “appropriate conversations have been had.”
Inquiries sent to Indur to clarify who was communicating with Northwest Laboratory and Florida officials went unanswered.
Bull described the man she was speaking with on behalf of Indur as a smooth operator who spoke knowledgeably about the technical aspects of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing.
‘Never really sat right’
Bull said the man calling himself “Blayne Beal” told her he had a major testing deal and the lab he normally worked with had fallen through for him. At first she responded like it was a normal inquiry. But as he continued to contact her over “a very, very stressful two weeks dealing with this guy,” she began to have questions about the company, saying the situation “never really sat right,” and that “never once has something been pushed that quickly.”
“Where it really got dicey is he wanted us to sign an agreement to give the results to him,” she said. She explained that he “wanted us to send results to him… to maintain the vision that he was actually a lab, which is how he represented himself.”
Eventually, the lab firm discovered a local news article about Brandt Beal’s criminal past, which Bull said was “a deal sinker for us.”
Bull eventually got into contact with the Florida Division of Emergency Management directly to sign a deal and said that even as she was negotiating a contract with the state, Beal was still pressuring her to sign a deal with Indur, claiming FDEM officials were complaining about the delay.
FDEM has not provided a copy of the state’s contract with Northwest Pathology in response to a public-records request filed more than three months ago.
When Beal found out the state had contracted with Northwest Laboratory directly, Bull said he demanded a finder’s fee, or at least to have the firm be the middleman for Beal to supply part of the testing kits. She said Beal never really followed up on his demands.
Indur ended up signing its own deal on May 4 directly with the state to provide testing supplies. Mahon said the supplies were provided, and a state transparency database shows the “Executive Office of the Governor” paid Indur more than $2.2 million. That agreement for testing supplies also shows a signature purported to be that of “Blayne Beal,” but Blayne Beal again insisted that the signature isn’t his, and that none of the signatures on the agreements with the state even look like his signature.
Mahon told Florida Bulldog in May that the division was signing no-bid contracts so fast that state officials didn’t have time to make sure they weren’t doing business with criminals.
“Time is of the essence when securing these critical testing supplies for Floridians,” he stated, “and that limited time does not allow for the Division to vet every company’s executive leadership or board of directors.”