Guarantees detailed communication between Hidalgo employees, supplier in controversial COVID-19 vaccine contract
Guarantees detailed communication between Hidalgo employees, supplier in controversial COVID-19 vaccine contract

Guarantees detailed communication between Hidalgo employees, supplier in controversial COVID-19 vaccine contract

Search orders used to seize computer equipment from Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s office outline communications between several of her employees and a communications firm – which eventually won a nearly $ 11 million contract for a COVID-19 vaccine awareness campaign – weeks before the tender process opened.

The Texas Rangers’ investigation into possible misuse of information, making false statements and manipulation was aimed at several county workers under Hidalgo – including Chief of Staff Alex Triantaphyllis, policy director Wallis Nader and former senior adviser Aaron Dunn – to exchange text messages with Elevate Strategies founder Felicity Pereyra already in January 2021 on the proposed vaccine campaign, court records show.

No charges have been filed in connection with the investigation.

State and local law enforcement officers are investigating charges that Hidalgo’s office managed a contract for a potential supplier by providing early access in front of other contractors. The contract with the company, whose founder has ties to top Democrats, was later canceled.

Documents note that ethical rules for the county’s procurement policy, it states: “If an external consultant or contractor submits a tender or proposal for a project to which the consultant or contractor was previously a contributor, other than an open forum, then the tenders or proposals from that consultant or contractor shall be disqualified. due to conflict of interest. “

In the search warrant, Texas Rangers investigator Daron Parker described employee interviews with the seller prior to the opening of bids and how it appeared to be misuse of information and a violation of county ethics.

The employees later signed documents stating that they followed the county’s ethical guidelines.

“All three made and presented false statements in a government journal and committed manipulation of government records,” Parker wrote.

Hidalgo, a Democrat seeking another term in the fall, has accused critics of the contract of launching a biased smear campaign. She has insisted that her office did nothing wrong with the contract and that the procurement committee chose the supplier it found would do the best job.

“The misleading story in today’s publication is the latest act of political theater from a politically motivated investigation,” said Eric Gerard, one of Hidalgo’s lawyers.

“Ultimately, this was about dedicated civil servants trying to get the best team to fight COVID-19 in Harris County,” he continued in a statement. “Since taking office, Judge Hidalgo has held himself and his staff to the highest ethical standards and is the only official who rejects donations from all county suppliers.”

Dunn declined to comment via phone. Triantaphyllis and Nader could not be reached for comment late Friday.

The tender process started in March 2021 and the contract was terminated months later. Nader and Triantaphyllis are still working for the county judge’s office, while Dunn has since left.

An email from Nader and Triantaphyllis on January 13 outlined the proposed campaign for Pereyra: “Tell us your thoughts and proposed budget once you have had the opportunity to review it.” The email went on to say that county officials wanted a proposal on how to develop a data-driven outreach campaign to distribute vaccines fairly. Pereyra answered and made plans for a phone call.

Hidalgo joined the communication with Triantaphyllis and her Chief of Staff, Joe Madden, about the project.

“What I do not know is – whether these people will be responsible for the data, or whether (Pereyra) can also make data for inequalities,” the judge wrote.

Investigators also reviewed Elevate Strategies’ business records and found an email Jan. 14 stating that Hidalgo’s office contacted the company to “manage an outreach campaign to push us close to herd immunity.”

Investigators filed more than 60 pages in three rulings stemming from last week’s search of the county’s administration building at 1001 Preston St. The seized electronics included several telephones and computers.

“Search warrants were recently executed by the Texas Rangers in coordination with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. by District Secretary, “said Dane Schiller, spokeswoman for District Attorney Kim Ogg’s office.” In fairness to all involved, we will have no further comment at this time. “

According to the rulings, Pereyra’s company was chosen to oversee the media campaign – although the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston’s proposal received a higher score from a committee of five employees. Triantaphyllis, Nader and Dunn were on this committee. Two other vendors, the Texas Tool Belt and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund (NALEO), also applied.

“Although Elevate Strategies LLC received the second highest score, they were considered the best proposal due to their firm understanding of the requirements and the delivery of a strong submission overall,” according to a staff report.

The committee disqualified NALEO for lack of broader focus and the University of Texas for a history of failed projects – all the while noting that the school had the desired data analysis for the project. The third supplier, the Texas Tool Belt, was rejected for lack of emphasis on data analysis.

County commissioners voted in June to approve the contract, with only Republican Jack Cagle voting against. He and others had criticized the contract, saying the $ 11 million deal went to a company that had only one employee, Pereyra, who had no experience in a health-related endeavor. The contract encouraged her to hire 50 canvas printers.

The Houston-based firm has ties to Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia and other Democrats. Pereyra worked on Garcia’s mayoral campaign in 2015 and Hillary Clinton’s presidential election in 2016.

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