Politics

Lina Hidalgo staffers will stay on the job after felony charges connected to an $11 million COVID-19 contract

Hidalgo said that she believed the “unfair” accusations were politically motivated, since she’s running for reelection in November.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo fields questions after unsealed court documents alleged that staff members in Hidalgo's office steered an $11 million contract for a COVID-19 outreach project to a preferred vendor. Taken on March 22, 2022.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Tuesday said she still won’t fire senior staffers accused of steering an $11 million contract to a preferred vendor — even after they were hit with felony charges on Monday.

In a statement, Hidalgo said she would retain two staffers — Wallis Nader and Chief of Staff Alex Triantaphyllis — and argued that the current narrative surrounding the allegations was not accurate, citing recent reports she said provide an alternate explanation of the communications.

“News reports have already shown that recent accusations suffer from a serious lack of understanding of the facts,” she said. “My team will remain on my staff and continue to make meaningful positive change on behalf of the people of Harris County.”

Hidalgo added that she believed the “unfair” accusations were politically motivated, since she’s running for reelection in November.

Triantaphyllis, Nader, and former senior adviser Aaron Dunn — who no longer works in Hidalgo’s office — were all indicted Monday on charges of records tampering and misuse of official information, according to court documents. All three made court appearances Tuesday.

Misuse of official information is a third degree felony, while tampering with a government record is a state jail felony.

Hidalgo has not been charged with a crime, and has adamantly denied any wrongdoing.

The three staffers have been accused of communicating with a vendor, Elevate Strategies, to tailor the multi-million dollar contract’s scope of work in order to cater to the company’s strengths. The contract with Elevate Strategies was eventually pulled after public outcry.

Texas Rangers raided the Harris County Administration Building last month in search of phones and computers belonging to the three staffers. Unsealed warrants detail correspondence between them and Elevate’s founder Felicity Pereyra, along with text messages between the staffers and Hidalgo herself that appear to show Hidalgo was aware of the coordination. Her lawyers later offered an alternate explanation — that the correspondence involved a contract separate from the COVID-19 outreach project.

A spokesman for Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg confirmed in a statement that her office was prosecuting the case.

"Prosecutors presented the evidence to a Harris County grand jury, which determined there was sufficient evidence for criminal charges,” spokesman Dane Schiller wrote. “We will follow the evidence wherever it leads and apply the law equally to all; our work continues.”

PREVIOUSLY | 3 Lina Hidalgo staffers indicted in connection with $11 million Harris County COVID vaccine outreach contract

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