PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Republican gubernatorial candidate Ashley Kalus’s time as a state testing contractor ended so acrimoniously that a police officer wound up filing a report on the dispute as the two sides threatened each other with legal action, Target 12 has learned.

Doctors Test Centers (DTC), a company led by Kalus and her husband, secured a $7.9 million state contract last year to provide testing services at multiple sites throughout the state, as well as a separate contract to run vaccination clinics. Kalus bought a house in Newport after obtaining the contract and registered to vote in Rhode Island on Jan. 18, shortly before she filed to run for governor.

By that time Kalus’s relationship with health officials had soured to the point that they were exchanging hostile emails, according to documents obtained by Target 12 from the weeks before the DTC testing contract expired on Jan. 31.

At the heart of the dispute was the fact that Health Department leaders wanted DTC to vacate a Westerly testing site about two weeks before the company’s contract officially ended, in order to make room for Med Tech, the new vendor that would be taking over the operation.

The emails, which were obtained through a public-records request, show state officials believed they had a written agreement with DTC to transition to Med Tech on Jan. 15. But two days before that, DTC chief operating officer Nick Toscano-McDonald informed state leaders the company had “decided that we will maintain control of our remaining sites until the end of our contract.”

That kicked off a heated exchange between the two sides, including a Jan. 14 email in which Kalus wrote, “Whistle blowers do have protection when bringing up issues of waste, fraud, and abuse. I would suggest that you not erase your phone in preparation for litigation.”

Saying that her team had already “complained” to state officials months earlier, Kalus wrote, “I’ll consult with legal to see if mediation allows limited discovery of your text messages.”

Why wouldn’t DTC hand over to Med Tech on Jan. 15? Toscano-McDonald wrote that the “direct reason” was because officials at Kalus’s company believed the new vendor had been trying to hire away their employees in advance of the change.

Kalus also raised another issue by requesting copies of regulatory documents — known as Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments, or CLIAs — regarding the other vendor.

In response, the state’s COVID chief operating officer Kristine Campagna told Kalus and Toscano-McDonald that DTC no longer had state permission to operate at the testing site in Westerly after Jan. 15. Campagna went on to raise the “possibility of pursuing criminal trespass charges through law enforcement, if DTC fails to clear the property on time and leaving it in good condition.”

“But I am sure that neither of you, and certainty no one here, wants to go down that road — nothing would be gained,” Campagna wrote.

“Instead, I urge you to keep to the plan upon which the parties agreed and vacate the remaining sites on schedule,” she added. “The roughly 1,100 Rhode Islanders scheduled to be tested for COVID-19 on Sunday at the Westerly and South Road sites, facing the scourge of the Omicron variant on top of the rest of life’s worries, deserve not to have an unpleasant experience disrupted by an unnecessary and unfounded skirmish at the administrative level.”

Contacted for comment by Target 12, the Kalus campaign shared what it said were three additional emails sent to the Health Department that night and the following day, in which Kalus and her husband, Jeffrey Weinzweig, argued that they couldn’t shift the testing sites to Med Tech until the state showed them the new vendor’s CLIA documentation.

“I spoke with Dr. McDonald this morning and expressed my serious medical concern about my patients being transitioned to vendors who do not have CLIA certificates and thus are not able to competently and compliantly run these tests,” Weinzweig wrote in one email, referring to Dr. James McDonald, the Health Department’s medical director at the time.

(Asked Wednesday about Weinzweig’s assertions, Health Department spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said, “Every entity that the state has worked with to do testing has been appropriately credentialed.”)

In another email, Kalus levied a series of other charges at Health Department leaders, including allegations that they ignored unspecified warnings about a different testing vendor and that they had made poor decisions about the use of tests for school reopenings and nursing homes.

“If you want to go down this path, you are violating the contract and causing harm to DTC,” Kalus wrote. “Worse I have worked to protect the people of Rhode Island from your deep incompetence. We can do that on our sites. Once we are gone, no one is protected.”

Then the police got involved.

The Health Department notified then-Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey on the morning of Jan. 15 that there could be a problem with DTC vacating the Westerly testing site, which was located inside his department’s police station.

A police report filed the following day by then-Lt. Paul Gingerella — who has since succeeded Lacey as chief — shows that DTC’s Toscano-McDonald left the Westerly testing site at the end of the day on Jan. 15 but took with him “computers, printers and all the testing supplies” that belonged to Med Tech.

Gingerella said he had seen those supplies the day before and “could clearly tell what items belonged to MedTech as they had MedTech paperwork next to and on the same table as a printer, iPad, and label makers.”

Gingerella said he subsequently called Toscano-McDonald, asking “why he took everything … after I specifically told him only to take his stuff.”

“I received several excuses like he didn’t know what was his,” Gingerella wrote in the police report. “I advised him that this property needs to come back now, or he could be subject to arrest.”

About 20 minutes later, Gingerella said, he received a call from the owners of DTC, including an individual he believed to be Kalus, as well as her husband.

“DTC owners both constantly talked over me and continued to ask me for a list of what was taken and who even called the police,” he said.

Gingerella also wrote that the DTC leaders kept “trying to tell me that they have no issues with MedTech and that they have trained them to do the tests.” He continued, “I know that this was a [sic] untrue as I read the emails where they complained that MedTech was showing up at their sites and they were upset about it.”

Gingerella said he then got a call from Thomas Conley, who identified himself as a DTC attorney. The attorney asked the lieutenant if his client would be arrested if he came back to the station and returned the missing items, according to the report. Conley then asked the lieutenant why he was even at the testing site.

“I responded to him that the site is inside of the police station,” Gingerella wrote, adding, “I advised him that I don’t appreciate his clients trying to accuse me of something, even after I spoke with them.”

Eventually, all of the missing items were returned “except an adapting unit/device,” according to the report.

Summing up the dispute, the lieutenant wrote: “It is clear to me after reading some emails between them and the RIDOH, the administration of DTC has no idea what is going on in their testing facilities, specifically their lack of knowledge that one of the testing facilities is in a police station and alleging that I forced employees to leave.”

“Just one example of the lack of leadership is at the Westerly facility when they left the PCR tests out on the floor and the chain of evidence was not followed as well as issues of garbage disposal,” he added.

Westerly was one of multiple testing sites operated by DTC under its contract with the state. Others included McCoy Stadium and Wickford Junction.

On Wednesday, Kalus stood by her company and her interactions with health officials in January.

“I’m proud of the work the employees of DTC accomplished during the course of COVID to make Rhode Island the most vaccinated state in the country,” Kalus said in a statement. “My only concern was for the safety of the hundred of thousand patients we treated.”

“While our contract ended on Jan. 31, we obliged [the Department of Health] on the 15th, even though the new vendor did not have a proper qualifications to manage the site,” she continued. “At the end of the day, we managed 12 testing sites and two vaccine sites where we administered over 400,000 tests and 30,000 vaccines.”

When the DTC testing contract ended earlier this year, state officials publicly explained the decision as stemming from a decline in demand for testing, as the soaring numbers fueled by the omicron variant beginning in November had begun to quell.

“We have worked with a number of vendors throughout the pandemic and have made adjustments regularly to meet the needs of Rhode Islanders when it comes to testing and vaccination,” Wendelken, the Health Department spokesperson, said in February when asked about why the business relationship ended.

Behind the scenes, however, state health officials and company executives weren’t getting along, according to the emails. In addition to the trespassing and litigation threats, Kalus also accused the Health Department’s Campagna of directing her son to “take state property in the form of test kits” and give them to her “to use personally and privately” for her family.

“I have some other concerns about your behavior that was confided in me that makes me uncomfortable with you as our contract manager,” Kalus added. “Every time I have reported noncompliance or quality concerns, you have retaliated and defamed me.”

Kalus suggested she’d received the information from Kurt Hinck, who served as head of COVID testing for the state until he left in January. Hinck has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Asked this week about the allegations regarding taking test kits, Wendelken declined to say whether the department had investigated Kalus’s claims. But he said at no time during the pandemic response “have we found anyone at RIDOH inappropriately accessed testing resources.”

“All of the operational decisions we make about our COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites are guided by a commitment to ensuring that Rhode Islanders have optimal healthcare and customer service experiences at those sites,” Wendelken said.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook