3 Harris County Judge staffers named in felony indictments over controversial contract
HOUSTON - The $11 million COVID communication deal Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo once vigorously defended has just triggered a half dozen felony criminal indictments against three members of her inner circle, including the judge's chief of staff, Alex Triantaphyliss.
"Bring it on! Bring it on! Because there is nothing here," said Hidalgo at Commissioners Court on August 24, while defending the controversial contract.
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Also, facing felony charges of tampering with government documents and misuse of official information are Aaron Dunn and Wallis Nader.
According to the Texas Rangers, the trio orchestrated a bid rigging scheme to steer the multi-million dollar contract to a little known, one-woman firm with few resources and extensive connections to Democratic political campaigns.
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Back in August, FOX 26 was the first to scrutinize the contract and report multiple irregularities before its abrupt cancellation by Hidalgo and the court under enormous pressure,
"They will now start talking to these defendants about seeing if one of them will, to use our vernacular, flip against Lina Hidalgo – or someone else – testify against her in exchange for a deal. If you roll the dice and go to trial, you just may end up with a prison sentence," said Chris Tritico, FOX 26 legal analyst.
Tritico says while the evidence described in the Ranger affidavits is troubling, it is also only one side of the story.
"We have what the Texas Rangers decide to tell us. We don't have 365 degrees of those conversations. We don't have what was said before and what was said after. When you have snippets it can certainly look bad, so when we get the whole conversation we may see a different kind of conversation when we know everything," said Tritico.
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From the very beginning, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle publicly opposed the Elevate Strategies contract and now says the criminal charges it spawned have delivered a very sad day for Harris County taxpayers.
"Now we see that it was not just a contract that smelled bad, but one that has been indicted for being rotten to the core," said Cagle.
In recent days, Hidalgo has defended her staff saying their actions related to the COVID contract were driven by a desire to save lives during the pandemic.
Lawyers for all three defendants have publicly stated a full review of the facts will establish their clients' innocence.
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The Harris County District Attorney's Office released the following statement:
"Since the State of Texas disbanded the Public Integrity Unit, which was housed at Travis County District Attorney’s Office, the responsibility for such work has landed exclusively with district attorneys across the state," said Dane Schiller, spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. "Prosecutors presented the evidence to a Harris County grand jury, which determined there was sufficient evidence for criminal charges. We will follow the evidence wherever it leads and apply the law equally to all; our work continues."