Harris County

Former Lina Hidalgo staffer under indictment in Harris County seeks to void new search warrants

Attorneys for Alex Triantaphyllis, one of three former Hidalgo staffers who have been accused of steering a lucrative government contract to a preferred vendor, claim in a motion filed Monday that new search warrants obtained in the case are overly broad and based on falsified information.

Lina Hidalgo Kim Ogg
Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo accused District Attorney Kim Ogg of pursuing a political vendetta against Hidalgo’s office on May 17, 2022.

Attorneys for Alex Triantaphyllis, the former chief of staff for Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo who was criminally indicted last year on allegations he helped steer a lucrative government contract to a preferred vendor, have asked a judge to void a new round of search warrants in the case, claiming they are overly broad and were improperly obtained.

Triantaphyllis is one of three former Hidalgo staffers, along with Aaron Dunn and Wallis Nader, who were indicted in April 2022 on felony charges of misuse of official information and tampering with a governmental record. They are accused of helping Elevate Strategies land an $11 million contract for a COVID-19 vaccine outreach program by communicating about the project with company owner Felicity Pererya before it was put out for competitive bidding. The contract was approved by Harris County Commissioners Court in 2021 but subsequently canceled.

The charges were filed last year based on evidence obtained through a grand jury subpoena. New search warrants were obtained earlier this month by Texas Ranger Daron Parker, who is investigating the case along with the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

Triantaphyllis' attorneys pushed back on the new warrants requested by Parker, who wrote in affidavits he is now investigating potential tampering with evidence because the defendants and Hidalgo's office allegedly concealed "numerous documents and communications that were ordered to be produced by grand jury subpoena." The recently obtained warrants compel AT&T and WhatsApp to provide communications from the former staffers' personal cell phones because those devices were allegedly used for business purposes.

"Alarmingly, there is nothing in the search warrants limiting production to only items concerning county business – they compel production of information about all messages and phone calls on Alex's personal cellphone," Triantaphyllis' Houston-based attorneys, Marla Poirot and Dan Cogdell, wrote in their Monday motion to void the search warrants and suppress any evidence that may be obtained through the warrants. "That is, for example, the warrant authorizes Ranger Parker and DA (Kim) Ogg to obtain communication information between Alex and his retained counsel (attorney-client privileged items), communications between Alex and his wife (spousal privileged items), and all private communications between Alex and those who have nothing to do with county business."

The defense attorneys also requested an evidentiary court hearing about their motion. County court records show that Triantaphyllis' next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 11.

Joe Stinebaker, the director of communications for Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, brushed off the motion and its merits in a Wednesday statement to Houston Public Media.

"This is yet another example of the defense's attempts to try this case in the media," Stinebaker said. "We, however, look forward to trying it in the proper venue – a courtroom."

Hidalgo has denied wrongdoing and defended her former staffers since they were indicted, characterizing the investigation as the product of a political vendetta with Ogg, a fellow Democrat. Hidalgo accused Ogg of abusing the power of her office in a news conference held Nov. 10 – the day after the recently obtained search warrants were unsealed – saying, "We're not going to let a thug run her office in this way, and harm the people in this way."

Ogg subsequently described Hidalgo's claims as "nothing more than an attempted deflection from the facts and evidence that led to the initial indictment of her staffers."

Hidalgo, who was elected to a second four-year term in 2022, has endorsed Ogg's challenger, former Harris County prosecutor Sean Teare, in the upcoming March primary.

Triantaphyllis' attorneys alleged in their Monday motion that the new search warrants were "improperly obtained" based on falsified information in the affidavits written by Parker, who claimed he had received case-related communications from Pererya that he did not also receive from the defendants or Hidalgo's office. The defense attorneys disputed that claim in their motion, saying two such messages cited by Parker had in fact been provided by their client.

The attorneys therefore wrote that there should not have been sufficient probable cause to secure the new search warrants, describing the affidavits used to obtain them as having a "reckless disregard for the truth."

"Ranger Parker and the (DA's office) are not pursuing a good-faith investigation into criminal activity; they are fishing for communications to publicly ridicule and attack Hidalgo and her staff," the defense attorneys wrote in their motion.