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Indicted Hildago Staffer Accused of Violating Release Conditions

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Alex Triantaphyllis | Image by Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle

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Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s Chief of Staff Alex Triantaphyllis has been accused of violating the conditions of his bond release by participating in contract procurement talks.

A criminal court judge has ordered prosecutors and defense lawyers to define bond requirements for him and two other county employees facing felony charges, according to The Texan.

Last month a grand jury indicted Triantaphyllis, Policy Director Wallis Nader, and former aide Aaron Dunn for allegedly tampering with a document attached to an $11 million COVID-19 vaccine outreach contract and for misuse of official information.

At the April 12 arraignment hearing, visiting Judge Vanessa Velazquez set each defendant’s bond at $3,500 and prohibited them from discussing the case with one another.

In addition, Velazquez reportedly banned defendants from participating in any contract procurement operations. The bond conditions also allegedly required that Triantaphyllis not serve on any Request for Proposal (RFP) or evaluation committee while his criminal case is pending, ABC13 reports. However, no court reporter was present to transcribe the proceedings, so court records did not reflect the release terms.

After the three staff members were released, Dunn was reassigned to the Harris County Flood Control District, while Nader and Triantaphyllis continued to serve in Hidalgo’s administration.

A motion filed by Harris County Assistant District Attorney Michael Levine, accuses Triantaphyllis of representing Hidalgo in a session with the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Steering Committee over ARPA funds. They voted to approve a content description and procurement guidelines for a child-care-related contract on April 13, the day after the arraignments.

According to prosecutors, this constituted a violation of the conditions of Triantaphyllis’ release on bond.

Triantaphyllis’ defense attorney, Marla Poirot, argued that prosecutors misrepresented bond conditions set by Velazquez. She also said that Triantaphyllis did not violate bond conditions since the ARPA Steering Committee was not a genuine RFP committee

The initial investigation into the three staff members stems from accusations that they interfered in the vendor evaluation process for contracting a company last summer to execute a vaccine outreach project.

Hildalgo’s office gave the $11 million contract to Elevate Strategies, a firm owned by Felicity Pereyra, a prominent Democratic political strategist. Charges listed in the affidavits include tampering with governmental documents and misusing official information, both felonies under Texas law.

Commissioner Jack Cagle (Precinct 4) questioned the Elevate Strategies contract last August when reports emerged that Pereyra was the former deputy campaign manager for Commissioner Adrian Garcia (Precinct 2) and a former employee of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

Hidalgo said she decided to cancel the contract, which she claimed had gotten too politicized, after disclosures that her staff tried to change vendor requirements and disqualify the University of Texas Health Science Center. Despite announcing the deal’s cancellation in September, the County reportedly paid Pereyra $1.4 million on the contract in the same month.

The Texan reports that the search warrant affidavits submitted by the Texas Rangers disclosed that Dunn, Nader, and Triantaphyllis sought Hidalgo’s input on the vaccine outreach project’s scope and other topics. Triantaphyllis also purportedly told his colleagues to close the door on UT after the university received a higher vendor selection score than Elevate Strategies.

Hidalgo and her counsel argued that neither she nor her team broke the law regarding the Elevate Strategies contract. Hidalgo characterized the correspondence listed in the affidavits as “private” and “taken out of context,” The Texan reports.

She also characterized the accusations as “political vengeance” orchestrated by fellow Democrat and District Attorney Kim Ogg.

“It is no coincidence that this is occurring during my re-election campaign,” Hidalgo asserted. “That in and of itself should make very clear that it’s politically motivated.”

“If anyone believes that I will be intimidated or dissuaded by this, they have severely misread me,” she added.

Hidalgo defeated five opponents in the 2022 Democratic Primary for Harris County Commissioners Court judge and will face Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer in the November election.

The staff members’ cases were first assigned to the 351st District Court under Judge Natalia Cornelio, who was on leave at the time of the arraignments. Cornelio filed for recusal due to her close ties with Hidalgo, Nader, and Pereyra.

The cases have now been assigned to the 174th District Court under Hazel Jones, who has scheduled a case status hearing for June 16, 2022.

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