Transcript: Update: Banned (Half Vaxxed)

Half Vaxxed

New: Half Vaxxed

NINA FELDMAN, HOST: Hey everyone — it’s been a while, but we just got some big Philly Fighting COVID news we wanted to update you about.

Until now, there hadn’t been much in the way of consequences for the young CEO of Philly Fighting COVID. He’d made a lot of irresponsible decisions. He’d abandoned testing sites serving Black and Latino communities.

CLIP, REV. CEAN JAMES: I heard nothing back from them. No response to any text, no response to emails. They really — they completely ghosted us.

NF: He walked away with vaccine doses to administer to his friends outside the clinic he was running.

CLIP, KATRINA LIPINSKY: He walked from the vaccine area over to his belongings and packed, I don’t know how many vaccines, and he left with another staff member.

NF: He talked openly about getting rich off vaccines.

CLIP, ANDREI DOROSHIN: We’re going to be billing insurance companies. $24 per vaccine… I just told you how many vaccines we want to do. You can do the math in your head.

NF: While these things might have been foolish and even cruel, it was unclear if any of this was actually illegal. Turns out, some of it was.

Last week, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office released a civil complaint against Andrei Doroshin. Now, he’s banned him from doing any work like this in the state for a decade. He’s forced to destroy all the personal data his groups collected. And he’s on the hook for $30,000.

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From WHYY, this is Half Vaxxed. I’m Nina Feldman.

The attorney general began investigating Andrei as soon as the city cut ties with Philly Fighting COVID back in January of 2021. It wasn’t until a year later that they released their findings.

My colleague Alan Yu is here — and we’re going to dive into those findings in a second…

REPORTER ALAN YU: Just a warning that it gets a little technical.

NF: But the thing is, so many of the problems with Philly Fighting COVID came down to technicalities. As we heard his former colleagues say in earlier episodes, Andrei wasn’t a details guy. He was a big picture, move fast and break things guy.

AY: And people tried to warn him that if he kept ignoring the details, he’d get into trouble. Like this.

NF: Ok now, let’s get into what the AG says was illegal here. The first count against Andrei was a violation of Pennsylvania’s consumer protection law, which stops people from passing off goods or services as something they’re not, doing anything that might confuse the public about who’s behind any given product.

So how did Andrei break this law?

AY: Well, he was operating Philly Fighting COVID as a nonprofit to run its testing sites. But remember: He wanted to make money off vaccines, so he started a for profit arm called Vax Populi.

And that’s the agency that was actually providing the vaccines to people at the convention center, that registered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the vaccine provider.

But in his complaint, Attorney General Josh Shapiro pointed out that no one had ever heard of Vax Populi. All the publicity and advertising was for Philly Fighting COVID — the pre-registration website, the promotion alongside the city — everything.

[montage of clips of city officials, Andrei Doroshin saying “Philly Fighting COVID”]

The attorney general said this confused the public. They believed they were getting vaccines from a nonprofit when really, it was another operation, one where the goal was to make money

NF: And it wasn’t just blurring the lines between Philly Fighting COVID and Vax Populi that Shapiro’s office zeroed in on.

Remember how Philly Fighting COVID tried to double down on the fact that they were associated with the city? Here’s a bit from my interview with Andrei right after we’d published a story that the city was launching its own vaccine sign up website, on top of Philly Fighting COVID’s, causing a lot of confusion.

CLIP, AD: Somebody told me that you guys wrote that we’re not part of the city. That’s hilarious. They’re giving us vaccine. That’s, like, a really easy way — I mean, Mayor Kenny came to the first site.

NF: PFC even included the City Council seal on their pre-registration website to make it look official.

At the time, we asked if Philly Fighting COVID had permission to use the seal. Emails we got later through a public records request show that after we asked, a city health staffer wrote to Philly Fighting COVID’s marketing rep at the time and told her to take the seal down.

Health Department spokesman James Garrow wrote, “People think this is the most important thing in the world right now.” He told her that the city law department was threatening legal action, which he wanted to avoid so Philly Fighting COVID wouldn’t get any more bad press.

Now, the legal action is coming from the state.


New: Half Vaxxed

Shapiro’s office said it was illegal for Andrei to make it look like Philly Fighting COVID was associated with the city when it wasn’t, and for him to make it look like the group was doing the vaccinations, when really it was his new for-profit company.

That brings us to the second count against Andrei. He was soliciting donations in Philly Fighting COVID’s name, and then mixing those funds with the private investments he’d brought in for Vax Populi.

There was the grant money Philly Fighting COVID got from the city to run its testing sites in underserved areas.

CLIP, AMANDA HUGHES: We were granted a quarter million dollars roughly to operate through the year.

NF: And the private investment Andrei got to front the costs for Vax Populi.

CLIP, NF TO AD: Is all your funding coming from in the city?

AD TO NF: It will hopefully start coming from the city as we were applying for grant funding. But currently, I am privately funding this.
NF: That private funding for Vax Populi came to about $225,000. Add to the mix roughly $45,000 in donations for Philly Fighting COVID — it all went into the same bank account, which Andrei used indiscriminately to cover his costs.
Shapiro says, you can’t commingle funds like that. His words.
AY: This was exactly what Dr. José Torradas had been worried about. He was Philly Fighting COVID’s medical director. He was originally in on Andrei’s plans, but he bounced before the group started vaccinating, because the business side of things wasn’t sitting well with him.

José told us he had reservations about Andrei early on, when Andrei would be kind of rude and unprofessional in meetings with the Philadelphia Health Department. But José said the final straw for him was Vax Populi.

Remember – José brought his mother, a former executive at a big company, to consult during early meetings with Andrei.

And that’s when he realized that Andrei was kind of lax about the rules of forming nonprofits, like changing status from one type of nonprofit to another — seemingly on a whim.

José told us his mother wanted to see the corporate structure Andrei was considering for Vax Populi.

DR. JOSE TORRADAS: Andrei kind of opened it up and sort of showed us the Vax Populi incorporation paperwork. And that’s when we learned that there was going to be the switch to a for profit entity. And that’s when it even started to get murkier, because when we would ask him, you know, why do you need to go to a for profit status? Even the answers there weren’t consistent, and so that was a big red flag.

AY: What he did not like was how Andrei could not answer basic questions like who the investors were and what the company structure would be.

NF: And I remember Jose saying Andrei’s attitude was basically like, “Oh, we’ll figure it all out later, don’t worry about it, why are you making such a big deal out of this,” right?

AY: Right. But this kind of due diligence really mattered for José and his mother. They were not ok with Andrei’s attitude that corporate structure and nonprofit status and all that could just be figured out down the line. That concerned them.

And that’s why José doubted Andrei’s leadership entirely. That’s why he sent a warning to the city that the fluid corporate status of Philly Fighting COVID and Vax Populi were something to watch out for.

NF: Right, and the final count that the AG brought against Andrei was related to his leadership. It says Andrei violated the state’s nonprofit law by being derelict in his duties as the director of a 501(c)3. The AG says that when Andrei abandoned Philly Fighting COVID’s testing operations all of a sudden in order to pursue vaccines, he was acting to benefit himself, not in the best interest of the organization.

Also… that $30,000 Andrei owes? It wasn’t picked at random. It’s how much was left in the testing contract with the city when Andrei decided to switch to vaccines. He left it on the table.

So what does all this mean?

Andrei and the AG’s office agreed to a settlement. The court still has to approve the terms, but if it does, here’s the deal.

First, Andrei has to dissolve Philly Fighting COVID and destroy all the patient data he collected through his pre-registration website. That’s tens of thousands of peoples’ personal information — mine included.

AY: The $30,000 he owes the state will be distributed among other philadelphia groups offering covid tests and vaccines to disadvantaged groups. If he doesn’t follow the payment schedule laid out, he’ll owe $60,000. And if he violates any of the terms, he could owe more than $700,000, according to Shapiro’s office.

NF: Finally, the settlement says Andrei is banned from controlling any charitable assets in the state of Pennsylvania for a decade. He also can’t do any sort of work where he gets reimbursed through insurance or government contracts, if it relates to patient COVID data.

To get a better sense of whether these types of penalties were normal, or harsh or if Andrei was getting off easy, I ran them by a couple of legal experts. They said it’s unusual to see a 10-year ban like this. One lawyer I spoke with called it “draconian.” But another said, it seemed proportionate to the offense.

LAURA SOLOMON: I mean, this is an outrageous case.

NF: This is Laura Solomon. She’s spent her career representing nonprofits and charitable groups. She says the attorney general pulled out all the stops for this one — he used every tool he had to punish Andrei. You don’t usually see someone forced to dissolve their organization. But in her mind, it was appropriate in this case.

LD: This guy set up a sham charity to fraudulently solicit funds from the public and cheat the government during covid for his personal financial gain.

NF: I asked her whether it mattered if Andrei might have commingled the public and private funds by accident or with the good intentions of setting up the clinic fast. After all, the city wasn’t funding it.

LS: Being young and in a hurry does not excuse egregious violations of the law.

NF: Now, we do need to tell you one other thing — one more piece of important context for this complaint from the AG’s office. Attorney General Josh Shapiro is a Democrat running for governor in Pennsylvania this fall. Philadelphia is a major democratic stronghold and this scandal angered a lot of people here. In fact, in the press release Shapiro’s office sent out announcing the settlement, he included a comment from Philadelphia’s democratic mayor thanking him for holding Andrei accountable.


AY: While we’ve got you, a couple more updates:

You might remember Tom Farley. He was the head of the health department when all this went down. He resigned after a separate scandal – and was recently hired by Washington, D.C.’s health department. No real professional consequences there.

NF: When we last left off, Dr. Ala Stanford, founder of the Black Doctor’s Consortium, was vying to take Farley’s place. But she pulled out of the running. She said she wanted to focus her energy on a clinic dedicated to providing all kinds of health care — not just COVID-related — for Black Philadelphians.

AY: As this pandemic has pressed on, more stories have popped up around the country of other shady dealings at COVID testing organizations. One group in Chicago was lying to customers about their test results and threw tests in the trash. Another delivered results with severe delays, consistently. They’re both under federal investigation, after receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

NF: The settlement bans Andrei from this type of work in Pennsylvania for a decade, but nothing is stopping him from doing something similar in another state. We told you in the last episode that Andrei’s dad and brother were running a vaccination operation in Georgia. Since then, Philadelphia magazine reported that Andrei had joined them. We didn’t hear back from Andrei, or his dad, or his lawyer for this episode.

On their website, the company says it offers a range of services, including pediatric vaccines, boosters, and concierge services. But when you click on the page for COVID-19 vaccines, there’s a message. It’s contradictory. And confusing, in a way that’s all too familiar. It reads:

“With the pandemic in full swing, we as a company have made it our priority to administer as many COVID-19 vaccines as possible.”

And then below that, in all caps, it says: “WE ARE CURRENTLY NOT OFFERING COVID VACCINATIONS.”

This episode of Half Vaxxed was reported by me, Nina Feldman, and Alan Yu. Our producer is Buffy Gorrilla. Our engineer was Al Banks. Mixing and sound design by Mike Villers. Original music by Max Marin. Our editor for this podcast is Katie Colaneri, with help from Danya Henninger and Joanne McLaughlin. This podcast is a production of WHYY and Billy Penn.

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