HOUSTON — The Texas Rangers and investigators with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office executed search warrants Friday morning at multiple connections relating to an ongoing probe of a multi-million dollar county vaccine contract, KHOU 11 News has learned.
Texas Rangers were on the top floor of the Harris County Administration Building, sources told KHOU 11 News. While the offices of County Judge Lina Hidalgo were not part of the search warrant, the computers and phones of at least two of her staff members were seized, according to sources.
A spokesperson with the Harris County District Attorney's Office confirmed the warrants were issued but gave no other details.
“A judge signed search warrants, which are legal authorization to search for and seize potential evidence of a crime," Dane Schiller with the Harris County District Attorney's Office said. "Out of fairness for all parties involved, we have no additional comment at this time.”
At issue is a $10.9 million community vaccine outreach contract originally approved by Harris County Commissioners Court last June.
The vendor, Elevate Strategies, came under scrutiny for its inexperience in the field of public health outreach, and for alleged political ties to local Democratic party officials.
Commissioner Jack Cagle originally voted against approving the contract.
“It smelled from day one,” Cagle said Friday. “I trust that the Texas Rangers are going to do their due diligence to make sure what all the facts are and all the shenanigans that went along with it.”
Cagle and Judge Hidalgo had verbally clashed over the issue at previous public meetings. At one point, Hidalgo saying, “Bring it on because there is nothing there.”
The judge ultimately canceled the contract amid the controversy.
A spokesperson for the county judge’s office Friday referred questions to Hidalgo’s personal attorney Ashlee McFarlane.
“The judge has the strictest ethical guidelines ever imposed in Harris County and that’s been ironclad from day one,” McFarlane said. “This is nothing but political theater since the devices would have been provided on request. What’s missing is any shred of evidence, but what’s in abundance is politics,” she said.
Within hours of the executed search warrant, candidates for Harris County Judge in the upcoming elections reached out to KHOU with statements.
“This controversial deal that has never passed the “smell test” happened over 6 months ago and Harris County taxpayers still don't know the truth," a spokesperson for Republican candidate Alexandra Del Moral Mealer said in a statement. "Time and time again, we see that Lina Hidalgo prioritizes political patronage over the interests of Harris County. This is shameful behavior by our County Judge. It shouldn't take subpoenas to force Lina Hidalgo to tell the truth about an $11 million contract given to a political crony. Leadership starts with accountability - it can't always be someone else's fault. At least voters will have the chance to replace Lina.”
Mealer's opponent in the May 24 Republican Primary runoff, Vidal Martinez, also released a statement.
"After months of withholding evidence while under a criminal investigation, Lina Hidalgo’s office is being raided by law enforcement including Texas Rangers and have seized boxes of documents and evidence on the Elevate Strategies case where Lina awarded an $11 million contract to her political crony," Martinez said. "In order [to] restore confidence in our county government, we once again call on Lina Hidalgo to resign immediately. As a former federal prosecutor and international attorney, I have spent decades handling national and worldwide investigations on corruption, and as County Judge, I will ferret out corruption at Commissioner’s Court.”