Lawyers for Hidalgo, aides say information undercut allegations in vaccine agreement probe

The menace of indictments looming above County Choose Lina Hidalgo’s workplace facilities on this allegation: Some of the judge’s major aides communicated with the owner of a business that was awarded a controversial $11 million vaccine outreach contract about the effort and hard work months prior to it was place out to bid.

Legal professionals for Hidalgo and her aides, however, say information present one particular doc was sent to the owner by mistake, a different was sent as portion of an unrelated job, and that Hidalgo’s staff members did not check out the company as a probable seller for the vaccine perform.

Texas Rangers a few weeks in the past acquired look for warrants to seize telephones and pcs from the households or workplaces of 3 Hidalgo staffers as component of the investigation. The agreement was canceled in September at Hidalgo’s ask for right after accusations that her business office steered it to Elevate Methods founder Felicity Pereyra, a Democratic political marketing consultant.

The warrants, produced public two weeks back, display the investigation has centered on achievable misuse of info, a felony, following the Hidalgo staff allegedly gave “an benefit to a competitor” in a bidding approach by corresponding with Pereyra weeks prior to the county sought proposals for the contract Elevate in the end won.

Investigators also are probing achievable untrue statements the aides — main of staff Alex Triantaphyllis, coverage director Wallis Nader and previous senior adviser Aaron Dunn — allegedly built attesting that they complied with county guidelines in awarding the deal. The 3 staffers served on the five-particular person panel that evaluated vaccine outreach proposals from Elevate and a few other sellers.

No expenses have been filed in the make any difference.

Quite a few e-mail, textual content messages and other files shared with the Houston Chronicle include context to the communications cited in the look for warrants.

Those people broader information, like the warrants, emphasis on the frenzied chatter inside the judge’s office environment in the early weeks of 2021, as a different wave of COVID-19 hospitalizations crested and general public officials urged Us citizens to get recently out there vaccines.

Employees in the judge’s workplace, information show, talked over two distinctive COVID-19 jobs in the very first weeks of the 12 months: Looking for Pereyra’s assist distilling COVID data for the judge’s overview, and launching an energy aimed at boosting vaccine use in low-participation communities — the contract that Pereyra would later get.

As a design for the latter exertion, Hidalgo pointed to get the job done Pereyra experienced finished for the county on the 2020 Census.

“Do we want to dump this on Felicity as nicely, or is that as well a great deal on one’s plate?” Triantaphyllis texted his colleagues the evening of Jan. 7. “Maybe we can incorporate it as a info-pushed element of her function.”

Triantaphyllis speedily typed up a summary of the “community outreach” for the “equitable distribution of vaccines” and added it to the base of a description of the COVID details task proposed for Pereyra.

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

Triantaphyllis, who later on informed Nader he “must have communicated incorrectly about which 1 to send,” spoke with Pereyra two days later on, then emailed her the suitable scope of function for the details challenge, without having the “outreach” language. He also sent Pereyra a COVID facts update — and an e mail with two attachments describing Hidalgo’s vaccine outreach ideas.

A person of the attachments, courtroom information display, was “substantially the same” as the ask for for proposals that was revealed for the vaccine outreach procurement five months later on.

‘Non-community information’

Investigators show up to watch that as an example of “non-public information” Pereyra acquired, which could form the basis for attainable expenses of “misuse of official information and facts.”

Triantaphyllis’ attorney, Marla Poirot, stated her shopper sent Pereyra the vaccine outreach information and facts due to the fact she would be anticipated to analyze that effort’s progress together with the rest of her facts operate.

“For a criminal violation, you need to have intent,” mentioned former 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 imagine. That is the concern. A lot more investigation needs to go into this.”

Text messages reveal Hidalgo’s staff members experienced not but made a decision regardless of whether to bid out the vaccine project or handpick a seller utilizing the judge’s COVID-19 emergency powers. The texts, Poirot pressured, demonstrate the aides did not view Pereyra as a seller for the vaccine function.

Documents demonstrate Triantaphyllis, in talking about the vaccine challenge with colleagues, mused about inquiring “Felicity to go find a person or far more suppliers,” and “asking Felicity (if we close her on the data things) for ideas on who can do this.”

As the county ready to put the vaccine agreement out to bid, Triantaphyllis recommended buying employees mail the paperwork to Pereyra and two other Houstonians familiar with group outreach. And when the procurement experienced been on-line for almost a 7 days with no responses, Dunn on Feb. 25 emailed it to 16 entities, such as Pereyra, Baylor, UT Wellbeing and progressive groups.

Poirot mentioned these initiatives had been aimed at having Pereyra and others’ assist generating additional responses to the procurement.

The working day Dunn sent his e mail, nevertheless, documents exhibit Pereyra downloaded the procurement paperwork, then emailed a colleague, stating she experienced been invited to bid on the agreement.

“I truly feel truly good about my odds in landing the challenge (they requested me to structure the program beforehand but then had been explained to to go to RFP),” she wrote, in accordance to the lookup warrants.

The Hidalgo camp’s lawyers dispute Pereyra’s characterization. The legal professionals pressured the lookup warrants by themselves point out that the procurement paperwork had been “substantially the same” as the vaccine document Pereyra gained on Jan. 15, suggesting she did not lead to it.

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

Pereyra, who on Feb. 24 had declined the info work, citing her constrained availability, submitted a bid for the vaccine outreach perform March 8, the day proposals ended up due. UT Health Science Heart at Houston and two other companies also submitted proposals.

Triantaphyllis, Nader, Dunn and two public overall health staff reviewed the proposals, scoring each and every using a rubric that evaluated this kind of aspects as a firm’s encounter, administration potential and programs to canvass neighborhoods. UT’s $7.5 million bid positioned initially, with an average score of 48 Pereyra arrived in second at 40.8 with a bid of $19.3 million.

The panel invited Pereyra, UT and a third organization back again for interviews March 31, but UT did not present up and did not reply to inquiries for six times, e-mail clearly show. UT Health representatives declined remark Friday.

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

UT reps did not show up at their job interview right until April 28, a September memo circulated by acquiring staff mentioned. The review panel also famous UT’s efficiency on a separate COVID task experienced brought on the county to cancel that agreement before in the 12 months.

Pereyra in the long run revised her proposal down to $11 million, and her agreement was accepted by Commissioners Courtroom that June. The courtroom canceled the contract in September at Hidalgo’s ask for the county now is performing to get better about $1 million paid out to Elevate.

‘Political theater’?

Attorneys for Hidalgo have characterized the probe as “political theater” on the aspect of Democratic district lawyer Kim Ogg, who repeatedly has sought more prosecutors from Hidalgo and her Democratic colleagues on Commissioners Court docket and consistently been turned down.

Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice College, reported the case appears to have benefit, but that Ogg’s selection to pursue this probe instead than other individuals of very similar advantage could be noticed as political.

“Politics most likely does participate in a part,” Jones stated. “Ogg has some conflict with Commissioners Courtroom, especially with Hidalgo.”

University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghous suggested the scandal is escalating for the reason that it is 1 of the few Hidalgo has faced, and simply because she is thought of “a climbing star” in the Democratic party whose ascent opponents would like to sluggish.

“Search warrants are essential actions in a lawful journey in look for of the truth of the matter. Our prosecutors will adhere to the evidence wherever it sales opportunities and implement the regulation similarly to all,” mentioned Ogg’s spokesman, Dane Schiller.

Hilder, the previous federal prosecutor, mentioned he does not get the argument that Ogg is pursuing the scenario to punish Hidalgo for spurning her funding requests. He expressed concerns with the evidence outlined in court docket files, nonetheless.

“Whereas the allegations are fairly relating to, they do not inform the entire tale and I would warning versus a rush to judgment,” Hilder explained. “The Rangers show up to attract conclusions that may perhaps not be supported when all the facts are acknowledged.”

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