Harris County

Texas Rangers investigating claims of evidence tampering in Harris County Judge’s office

A Texas Rangers investigator claims Hidalgo’s office had allegedly concealed “numerous documents and communications,” including personal phones, draft documents of the proposed project’s scope and deleted WhatsApp messages.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo dismisses allegations of evidence tampering during a press conference on Nov. 10, 2023.
Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo dismisses allegations of evidence tampering during a press conference on Nov. 10, 2023.

The Texas Rangers are investigating claims of evidence tampering in a case involving three of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s former staffers, who’ve been accused of steering an $11 million COVID-19 vaccine outreach contract to a preferred vendor.

The controversy began after a company called Elevate Strategies won the contract for the proposed project in June 2021. After the contract eventually withdrawn, an investigation headed by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office found what appeared to be communication between the three former staffers and Felicity Pereyra, the founder of Elevate Strategies, prior to Elevate winning the contract.

In March 2022, Texas Rangers raided the Harris County Administration Building. At the time, court records revealed investigators seized mobile phones and computers, and sought access to Google accounts. The three former staffers — Aaron Dunn, Wallis Nader, and Alex Triantaphyllis — were eventually indicted back in April 2022.

Now, in new search warrants unsealed on Thursday, a Texas Rangers investigator claims Hidalgo’s office had allegedly concealed “numerous documents and communications that were ordered to be produced by grand jury subpoena,” including personal phones, draft documents of the proposed project’s scope and deleted WhatsApp messages.

However, during a press conference on Friday, Hidalgo said her staffers had previously checked in with the DA’s office to make sure all of the required documents were sent over. She also denied that she and her former staffers had deleted messages, saying it would’ve been “stupid” to do so.

"Any documents that they requested, all of us would have done our very best to hand over,” Hidalgo said. “We turned over everything they asked for, we asked them if they needed anything else. They never said they did.”

Over the last year, Hidalgo has denied any wrongdoing and defended her former staffers, pointing to what she says is an omission of facts in the search warrants. She’s also claimed the investigation into her office has been part of a political vendetta led by District Attorney Kim Ogg, who is up for reelection next year. During Friday’s press conference, Hidalgo continued to accuse the DA of abusing her power for political gain.

“She abuses the office the people entrusted her with, and the sacred work that people entrusted her with, for political investigations,” Hidalgo said. “We’re not going to let a thug run her office in this way, and harm the people in this way.”

In a statement, DA Ogg said Hidalgo’s claims were “nothing more than an attempted deflection from the facts and evidence that led to the initial indictment of her staffers” and maintained that her office “pursues evidence-based prosecutions, regardless of political party.”

"She conflated an ongoing Texas Rangers criminal investigation with her political endorsement of my challenger and engaged in a childish exercise in name-calling that has become all too common in our political process,” Ogg’s statement read. “Using her status as county judge to launch this diatribe is an unfortunate attempt to taint the investigative process and to confuse the public.”