More than a year after three of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s senior staffers were charged with misuse of information and tampering with a government record, Texas Rangers are looking into new related tampering claims within Hidalgo’s office.
In 2022, staffers Alex Triantaphyllis, Wallis Nader, and Aaron Dunn were indicted following an investigation into an $11 million COVID-19 jab outreach contract.
The contract was awarded to Elevate Strategies, a local company founded by Felicity Pereyra.
It was revoked last fall after questions surfaced about how the company was awarded the contract.
During the 2022 court hearings, Hidalgo referred to the charges as “bullying” and “political dirty tricks.”
This week, Texas Rangers opened a new public corruption investigation into Hidalgo’s office to locate “concealed” records that showed how the $11 million county contract was awarded to Elevate Strategies.
According to search warrants, investigators were looking for proof that Hidalgo’s office disclosed non-public information to Pereyra.
Texas Ranger Daron Parker wrote in the search warrant, released on Thursday, that “it was discovered that numerous documents and communications that were ordered to be produced by Grand Jury subpoena had been concealed and made unavailable during the earlier Grand Jury proceedings.”
The concealed evidence included:
- Harris County Judge’s office employees used their personal phones to communicate about the Targeted Community Vaccine Outreach project with the owner of Elevate Strategies; and,
- Draft documents showing Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo personally edited the scope of the Targeted Vaccine Outreach project and mentioned the owner of Elevate Strategies LLC in her editing one day before the scope of work was shared with the owner of Elevate Strategies LLC more than two weeks before the project was publically announced; and
- WhatsApp and SMS messages showing Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and her staff believed that the majority of the Harris County Commissioners Court were going to vote against funding the Targeted Community Vaccine Outreach project and used the County Judge’s Emergency Authorization powers to bypass the voting process and award $10,973,00 to Elevate; and
- WhatsApp messages had been deleted after the initiation of the Grand Jury investigation.
According to KHOU 11 News, “court documents said the state is trying to find out if the felony offense of tampering with evidence was committed.”
On Friday, the Texas Department of Public Safety sent out a statement on the investigation:
In December 2021, the Texas Rangers and Harris County District Attorney’s Office initiated an investigation into criminal allegations against the County Judge’s Office in Harris County. Recently, additional search warrants were served on various service providers for records relevant to this investigation. This investigation is ongoing, and no further information will be released at this time.
Hidalgo argues that Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg is “abusing her powers” with this investigation.
“She’s abused the power of her officer the way a bully abuses size on the playground,” said Hidalgo. “It’s so clear that this has less to do with me and my office or Darrel Jordan, Rodney Ellis, or any of the other people than it has to do with her. With her panicking about her March 5 primary and the fact that she is behind.”
In August 2021, during a Harris County Commissioner’s Court meeting, Hidalgo welcomed an investigation, saying, “Bring it on because there is nothing here.”
Only the three staffers have been charged thus far.
As of publication, Hidalgo’s office did not respond to Texas Scorecard’s request for comment.