HOUSTON — Felony indictments have been filed against three of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's senior staffers in connection to the investigation into an $11 million COVID vaccine outreach contract.
The staffers have been identified as Aaron Dunn, Wallis Nader and Alex Triantaphyllis, according to court records.
Dunn is a former staff. Nader currently serves as policy director and Triantaphyllis is currently Hidalgo's chief of staff.
The charges listed are misuse of official information and tampering with records.
KHOU 11 News reached out multiple times to Judge Hidalgo's office, but did not hear back.
"When you have three staff members indicted in a single day you have to respond to that," said Pct. 3 commissioner Tom Ramsey.
Pct. 4 commissioner Jack Cagle says the indictments are a sad day in Harris County.
"We don't know if there's a fire yet because there's no conviction yet, but there's certainly smoke with the indictments," Cagle said.
We're told all three defendants will face a judge Tuesday morning.
KHOU legal analyst Carmen Roe says it appears this investigation is far from over.
"If I'm in her [Judge Hidalgo]'s office I'm shaking in my boots," said Roe. "This is not going to end well for anyone in that office who had anything to do with those contracts."
Investigation into Harris County vaccine contract
An $11 million COVID vaccine outreach contract that was awarded to Elevate Strategies in June 2021 came under scrutiny after it was discovered some staffers of Hidalgo's office may have helped the vendor obtain inside information about the contract weeks before a request for proposal was open to the public.
Staffers were said to also have worked to ensure another company didn’t win the contract, according to a search warrant.
The staffers reportedly began communicating with Elevate Strategies CEO Felicity Pereyra about the vaccine community outreach in January 2021, a month before a request for proposal on the subject became public, the search warrant said.
Four companies ultimately applied for the project after the request for proposal became public in February.
The contract was awarded to Elevate Strategies in June 2021 but was later terminated in September 2021 due to the company's inexperience with public health outreach and alleged ties to local Democratic party officials.
The investigation into the staffers' involvement in the contract started unraveling in March 2022 when the Texas Rangers and the Harris County District Attorney's Office served search warrants to the Harris County Administration Building.
Computers and phones of at least two of her staff members were seized at the time, according to sources.
Most recently, the Texas Rangers have looked into the Google accounts of six senior staff members of the Hidalgo's office, as well as the judge herself. Investigators seized a total of 14 Google files relating to the vaccine outreach contract.
Statements from lawyers
Aaron Dunn's attorney:
"Aaron Dunn is innocent. He has been an honest and dedicated public servant. He didn't share any information, he didn't commit any crime, and ultimately he will be vindicated."
Alex Triantaphyllis' attorney:
"We look forward to the upcoming court proceedings, which will shine a light on the fact that there has been no wrongdoing here. These charges against my client are unsupported by a full and objective review of the facts and the voluminous evidence in this case."
There has been no response yet from Wallis Nader's attorney.