Staff members of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s office appeared to coordinate to try to steer an $11 million contract for a COVID-19 outreach project to a preferred vendor, court documents show recently. not sealed.
These documents detail text exchanges and describe email correspondence between employees of the county judge’s office that appear to show they allowed the contractor, Elevate Strategies, to help tailor the scope of work on the project. before launching it.
The documents — reviewed by Houston Public Media and first reported by ABC 13 — also detail text exchanges between staffers and Hidalgo herself, which appears to show Hidalgo was aware of the coordination.
The warrants came to light last Friday when the Texas Rangers raided the Harris County Administration Building in downtown Houston, where they seized cell phones, laptops and desktop computers for senior staff Aaron Dunn, Wallis Nader and Alex Triantaphyllis.
No charges have been filed and there have been no arrests, but the Texas Rangers confirmed Friday that the investigation is ongoing.
According to the texts set out in the warrant, Nader and Triantaphyllis began floating the name of Felicity Pereyra – listed in the documents as the founder and sole director of Elevate, which had previously contracted with the county to raise awareness of the U.S. Census — Jan. 7, 2021 In the coming days, the two went back and forth over a proposed scope of work that would best match Pereyra’s experience, according to court records.
On January 13 last year, court documents allege that Hidalgo herself received a draft, and a day later confirmed that she “attempted to do so”, mentioning Pereyra by name as the office was working on this scope of work.
“What I don’t know is – if these people will be in charge of data or if Felicity can also be in charge of data on disparities – if these people will be in charge of operational advice, for example if we need traveling teams or something like that,” the documents read in part.
One of Hidalgo’s attorneys, Eric Gerard, denied any wrongdoing in a statement Friday.
“The misleading storyline in today’s post is the latest act of political theater in a politically motivated investigation,” Gerard wrote in an email. “Ultimately, it was about dedicated public servants trying to get the best team to fight COVID-19 in Harris County. Since taking office, Judge Hidalgo has held herself and her staff to the highest ethical standards and is solely responsible for refusing donations from all vendors in the county.
The warrants also allege that Triantaphyllis shared with Pereyra a document titled “Scope of Community Engagement Related to Vaccines.” Dunn confirmed that it was the same document he used for the request for proposals, investigators said – also known as the request for proposals, officials are issuing a request for proposals. But he denied any knowledge of communication between his colleagues and the seller.
“Dunn confirmed in his opinion that it would be inappropriate,” the court documents state.
Internal Elevate emails described in court documents also show Pereyra confirming that she was invited to bid on the contract and claiming that she has a good relationship with Hidalgo’s office, allegedly writing, “I feel really good about my chances of landing the project (they asked me to design the program ahead of time, but then I was told to go to the bidding), so I just starting to build a team. »
Five people were assigned to score the proposals, including Dunn, Nader and Triantaphyllis.
Elevate’s offering came in second, with a score of 40.4%. The first offering, UT Health, reached 46.8%.
Despite this, Elevate won the contract. According to a staff report detailed in court papers, UT Health was dismissed because previous community outreach projects they have undertaken “have not been successful.”
Text messages collected by investigators show Hidalgo staff members speaking negatively about UT Health before the process was complete.
“This vaccination campaign is getting ridiculous,” Triantaphyllis reportedly sent to Nader on April 20, 2021. “We need to slam the door at UT and move on.”
In a separate post a few weeks later, court documents show Dunn asking Triantaphyllis if he can attend a DP outreach meeting.
“No. Take it away,” he reportedly replied. “And don’t let UT get it.”
Nader did not respond to a request for comment. An email to Triantaphyllis returned with a reply saying he would be out until Monday, while an email to Dunn returned an out of office reply saying he was no longer working for Hidalgo.
The selection process has been controversial since an Aug. 24 meeting of the Harris County Commissioners’ Court, in which Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle openly criticized Hidalgo for choosing Elevate, calling it an unequipped “one-person store.” for work.
Hidalgo fired back, calling the characterization a “bold lie” and sparking a heated back-and-forth between the two.
“I didn’t know who was selected until the person was selected, the supplier was selected,” Hidalgo said at the time. “Once the supplier was selected, I learned that it was the same supplier who had done part of our census campaign, which was very robust. It could not have been done by a one-person company.
“Bring him on because there’s nothing here,” Hidalgo said.
A few weeks later, the contract was cancelled.
Additional reporting by Andrew Schneider.
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