By Araceli Cruz
By Tessa Stuart
By Anna Merlan
By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
Six days after Blagojevich signed the All Kids program into law, five Wellcare affiliates gave a total of $100,000 to Blagojevich. The Tampa-based company, which was raided by 200 FBI agents in 2007, already had a $75 million Medicaid contract with Illinois and had donated $25,000. Todd Farha, Wellcare's former CEO, told an earnings conference in mid-2006 that the Blagojevich administration had agreed "to ensure that we are one of the options available to Medicaid recipients as they consider enrollment" in All Kids (its Illinois payments doubled by 2008).
The program was launched in late 2005, simultaneous with Blagojevich's re-election campaign. When federal subpoenas unrelated to All Kids or Wellcare were issued the day Blagojevich unveiled it before a joint legislative session, Tusk was so frustrated that he lashed out at reporters: "If we could take one day to focus on an actual substantive problem and a solution to deal with it," he said, "instead of constantly talking about scandal, I think it would be a productive thing to do." The biggest donors to Blagojevich's campaign kitty during the second half of 2005 were health care and related companies, which kicked in $290,000.
Throughout the campaign in 2006, Blagojevich and his wife went from county to county to announce how many children had enrolled in the All Kids program. As Regenstein put it, "All Kids was obviously a central piece of the re-election campaign. It was the first thing Blagojevich mentioned in the victory speech." The program fell 270,000 children short of insuring all kids and can't pay for covered kids now.
Regenstein, who worked with Tusk in the New York Parks Department in the late '90s and was recruited by him to become Blagojevich's education adviser, said that Tusk and Wyma "had dinner with some regularity" throughout the Blagojevich years and remained "social friends." Yet, when pressed about him by reporters, Tusk claimed: "I don't think John is different from any other lobbyist in Illinois," attributing his success to his knowledge about how the process works. Wolfson says now that Tusk "had little interaction with John in his professional capacity"—which implicitly acknowledges that he was lobbied by him—and, even more surprisingly, adds that in Tusk's view, "he remains a friend."
Even Regenstein, whose office was next door to Tusk's, had his own frustrations about Wyma and was forced to explain to reporters the handling of Harcourt Assessment, which hired Wyma after it was tentatively awarded a $42.8 million testing contract by the State Board of Education, which Regenstein oversaw. Harcourt was concerned that a new Blagojevich majority on the board would re-bid it. The contract survived, and Harcourt's spokesman said, "I don't know whether Wyma had an impact or not." The company's performance was blasted two years later, even by Regenstein.
Blagojevich and Tusk came to New York in 2003 and 2004 to do press conferences with Mike Bloomberg about the flu vaccine and drug importation plans that later became a focus of the impeachment report.
It was certainly Tusk who reached out to NYC officials about a feared national shortage of flu vaccines, later telling investigators that he felt "if more people were involved, including governments from both parties, it would be harder for the FDA to say no to importing the vaccine" from Europe.
You'd think Bloomberg would have remembered that both of the projects Tusk brought to him from Illinois bombed. In fact, the European pharmaceutical supplier, Ecosse, that secured hundreds of thousands of doses of vaccine for Illinois and New York, but couldn't get them into the country, filed a claim against the city as recently as 2007 for $2.1 million. The impeachment report, echoing the 2006 findings of the Auditor General, says it was "the governor's office," meaning Tusk, that ordered 200,000 doses for New York.
No one takes the Ecosse claim very seriously, though a city health department official, Dr. Moupali Das-Douglas, authorized Illinois to get the vaccines in a November 2004 e-mail. A department spokeswoman told the Voice that it was the city's "understanding" that Ecosse "would secure" an FDA waiver, but that "proved incorrect," so it "did not go forward" with the purchase. Dr. Das-Douglas says, "The information from Illinois did not pan out." Either version suggests that Tusk and his people were not exactly straight with Bloomberg and his.
Unlike Illinois, New York never signed a contract with Ecosse, instead getting the needed vaccine from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which, according to the impeachment report, "had located enough vaccine for Illinois' priority population" as well. Yet "despite the fact that the state was going to receive all the vaccine it needed from the CDC," observed the report, the governor's office "actually increased the amount it sought by 74,000 doses." Tusk boosted the order when he already knew "that the vaccine would never be delivered"—informed by an e-mail addressed to him—because the FDA had "indicated it wouldn't approve the importation."
An Ecosse suit for $2.6 million against Illinois is still pending in Illinois, but the absence of a contract in New York has forestalled a suit here. As Wolfson argued in his e-mail to the Voice, the vaccine hunt started when the country momentarily panicked about a shortage. But by the time a deputy who reported to Tusk signed the contract in January 2005 (contrary to Wolfson's demarcation), the only thing he and Blagojevich were chasing was headlines, depicting the governor (who still had larger ambitions) as some sort of national hero.