Three members of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s staff have been indicted.
Hidalgo’s Chief of Staff Alexander Triantaphyllis, Policy Director Wallis Nader, and former aide Aaron Dunn each face felony counts of tampering with a governmental record and misuse of official information.
The charges were filed following a joint investigation by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and the Texas Rangers. In March, law enforcement raided Judge Hidalgo’s Office and seized cell phones and computers. Several Google accounts linked to members of Hidalgo’s office have also been investigated.
An $11 million contract awarded last summer is at the heart of the case against the three staff members. The contract involved PR work to promote awareness about the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine for members of the Harris County community.
The contract was awarded to Elevate Strategies, a one-woman firm owned by Felicity Pereyra, a Democratic strategist. She previously worked for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Elevate Strategies’ contract was terminated in September, with Hidalgo saying the deal had become too politicized.
The investigation by the Texas Rangers has focused on whether the awarding of the contract was made fairly. Accusations ranged from Pereyra having inside knowledge of the contract details before it was made public to Judge Hidalgo’s staff actively blocking a bid from another vendor for the contract.
The Harris County Commissioners Court initially approved the contract, 4-1, with Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle being the lone vote in opposition. Cagle immediately questioned the process that led to Elevate getting the contract.
“This is a major black eye for Harris County,” Cagle said. “Now it’s time for the courts to sort it out.”
Republican Judge Vanessa Velazquez presided over the arraignment hearings for all three staff members and approved a $3,500 bond for each. Velazquez ordered the three not to discuss the case but permitted them to continue to work together at the County.
Hidalgo announced on Tuesday that she would not suspend the three from working for the county and called the accusations “unfair” and “political dirty tricks.”
“I have not seen anything to suggest that my staff did anything but work tirelessly for the people of Harris County,” Hidalgo posted on social media. “They will remain on my team.”
After the Texas Rangers executed the search warrants, Dunn was moved from Hidalgo’s office to a new position with the Harris County Flood Control District.
Hidalgo has consistently denied any claims of illegal behavior.
“I ran against a style of politics in Harris County that worked more for the individuals who held office than for the people who voted for them,” Hidalgo said. “I don’t play the game. And that’s threatening to the powers that be.”
Judge Hidalgo is up for reelection this November.