July 2, 2022

Legal professionals for Hidalgo, aides say data undercut allegations in vaccine agreement probe

The danger of indictments looming more than County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s business centers on this allegation: Some of the judge’s leading aides communicated with the proprietor of a company that was awarded a controversial $11 million vaccine outreach agreement about the work months ahead of it was place out to bid.

Legal professionals for Hidalgo and her aides, having said that, say documents display one doc was despatched to the owner by mistake, a different was despatched as section of an unrelated task, and that Hidalgo’s team did not perspective the firm as a opportunity vendor for the vaccine work.

Texas Rangers three weeks ago obtained look for warrants to seize telephones and computers from the houses or offices of 3 Hidalgo staffers as aspect of the investigation. The deal was canceled in September at Hidalgo’s request following accusations that her place of work steered it to Elevate Tactics founder Felicity Pereyra, a Democratic political specialist.

The warrants, built general public two months back, exhibit the investigation has centered on doable misuse of details, a felony, immediately after the Hidalgo staff members allegedly gave “an advantage to a competitor” in a bidding procedure by corresponding with Pereyra months before the county sought proposals for the agreement Elevate ultimately received.

Investigators also are probing attainable fake statements the aides — main of staff members Alex Triantaphyllis, coverage director Wallis Nader and previous senior adviser Aaron Dunn — allegedly produced attesting that they complied with county policies in awarding the contract. The three staffers served on the five-individual panel that evaluated vaccine outreach proposals from Elevate and 3 other suppliers.

No fees have been filed in the matter.

Various e-mail, textual content messages and other information shared with the Houston Chronicle add context to the communications cited in the lookup warrants.

These broader records, like the warrants, focus on the frenzied chatter in just the judge’s office in the early months of 2021, as one more wave of COVID-19 hospitalizations crested and community officers urged Us residents to get newly obtainable vaccines.

Team in the judge’s office, records present, reviewed two distinct COVID-19 jobs in the very first months of the 12 months: Seeking Pereyra’s assist distilling COVID information for the judge’s critique, and launching an hard work aimed at boosting vaccine use in small-participation communities — the contract that Pereyra would afterwards win.

As a model for the latter energy, Hidalgo pointed to operate Pereyra had done for the county on the 2020 Census.

“Do we want to dump this on Felicity as properly, or is that way too significantly on one’s plate?” Triantaphyllis texted his colleagues the night of Jan. 7. “Maybe we can insert it as a info-pushed portion of her work.”

Triantaphyllis promptly typed up a summary of the “community outreach” for the “equitable distribution of vaccines” and included it to the bottom of a description of the COVID facts task proposed for Pereyra.

When Hidalgo signed off on the information undertaking times later, the file excluded that “outreach” language, but that verbiage continue to was in the text Nader then despatched to Pereyra.

Triantaphyllis, who afterwards instructed Nader he “must have communicated incorrectly about which one to mail,” spoke with Pereyra two days later on, then emailed her the accurate scope of operate for the details undertaking, with no the “outreach” language. He also despatched Pereyra a COVID details update — and an e mail with two attachments describing Hidalgo’s vaccine outreach programs.

One particular of the attachments, court documents present, was “substantially the same” as the request for proposals that was revealed for the vaccine outreach procurement 5 weeks afterwards.

‘Non-community information’

Investigators seem to check out that as an case in point of “non-general public information” Pereyra acquired, which could form the foundation for possible prices of “misuse of formal data.”

Triantaphyllis’ legal professional, Marla Poirot, claimed her consumer despatched Pereyra the vaccine outreach facts for the reason that she would be predicted to analyze that effort’s progress together with the relaxation of her information work.

“For a criminal violation, you want intent,” said previous federal prosecutor Philip Hilder, who has reviewed the look for warrants but has no involvement in the circumstance. “It’s not straight liability like the Rangers would have you consider. That is the problem. A great deal additional investigation demands to go into this.”

Text messages show Hidalgo’s staff members had not nonetheless resolved regardless of whether to bid out the vaccine project or handpick a vendor employing the judge’s COVID-19 emergency powers. The texts, Poirot pressured, exhibit the aides did not look at Pereyra as a seller for the vaccine function.

Records clearly show Triantaphyllis, in discussing the vaccine undertaking with colleagues, mused about asking “Felicity to go come across 1 or extra vendors,” and “asking Felicity (if we close her on the facts things) for suggestions on who can do this.”

As the county geared up to put the vaccine agreement out to bid, Triantaphyllis suggested buying workers mail the paperwork to Pereyra and two other Houstonians common with community outreach. And when the procurement had been on the web for virtually a week with no responses, Dunn on Feb. 25 emailed it to 16 entities, such as Pereyra, Baylor, UT Wellness and progressive groups.

Poirot claimed these endeavours ended up aimed at finding Pereyra and others’ enable generating extra responses to the procurement.

The day Dunn despatched his email, nonetheless, data exhibit Pereyra downloaded the procurement paperwork, then emailed a colleague, declaring she experienced been invited to bid on the deal.

“I feel genuinely good about my possibilities in landing the project (they questioned me to design the system beforehand but then had been instructed to go to RFP),” she wrote, according to the look for warrants.

The Hidalgo camp’s lawyers dispute Pereyra’s characterization. The attorneys stressed the look for warrants on their own condition that the procurement files have been “substantially the same” as the vaccine document Pereyra received on Jan. 15, suggesting she did not add to it.

Lawyers for Pereyra, Dunn and Nader declined remark or did not answer by deadline.

Pereyra, who on Feb. 24 had declined the info work, citing her confined availability, submitted a bid for the vaccine outreach work March 8, the day proposals were being due. UT Wellness Science Center at Houston and two other corporations also submitted proposals.

Triantaphyllis, Nader, Dunn and two community health and fitness personnel reviewed the proposals, scoring each making use of a rubric that evaluated these kinds of things as a firm’s encounter, administration capacity and designs to canvass neighborhoods. UT’s $7.5 million bid positioned very first, with an average rating of 48 Pereyra came in 2nd at 40.8 with a bid of $19.3 million.

The panel invited Pereyra, UT and a third agency again for interviews March 31, but UT did not present up and did not respond to inquiries for six days, e-mails clearly show. UT Overall health associates declined remark Friday.

Triantaphyllis continuously texted colleagues in April inquiring about the status of the procurement. “This vaccine outreach detail is acquiring ridiculous,” he texted Nader on April 20. “We have to have to slam the doorway shut on UT and go on.”

UT associates did not show up at their interview until eventually April 28, a September memo circulated by obtaining employees mentioned. The critique panel also mentioned UT’s efficiency on a separate COVID venture had triggered the county to terminate that agreement previously in the yr.

Pereyra eventually revised her proposal down to $11 million, and her agreement was authorised by Commissioners Court that June. The court docket canceled the agreement in September at Hidalgo’s request the county now is doing the job to get better about $1 million paid to Elevate.

‘Political theater’?

Lawyers for Hidalgo have characterised the probe as “political theater” on the part of Democratic district attorney Kim Ogg, who repeatedly has sought a lot more prosecutors from Hidalgo and her Democratic colleagues on Commissioners Courtroom and consistently been turned down.

Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice College, reported the scenario appears to have advantage, but that Ogg’s selection to pursue this probe relatively than other folks of identical benefit could be viewed as political.

“Politics possibly does perform a function,” Jones explained. “Ogg has some conflict with Commissioners Court, especially with Hidalgo.”

College of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghous instructed the scandal is escalating due to the fact it is 1 of the couple Hidalgo has confronted, and mainly because she is regarded “a increasing star” in the Democratic bash whose ascent opponents would like to gradual.

“Search warrants are vital methods in a authorized journey in research of the reality. Our prosecutors will comply with the proof where ever it prospects and use the legislation equally to all,” said Ogg’s spokesman, Dane Schiller.

Hilder, the former federal prosecutor, explained he does not invest in the argument that Ogg is pursuing the case to punish Hidalgo for spurning her funding requests. He expressed problems with the evidence outlined in court docket documents, however.

“Whereas the allegations are fairly relating to, they do not convey to the whole story and I would caution against a rush to judgment,” Hilder reported. “The Rangers look to draw conclusions that may possibly not be supported when all the points are recognised.”

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