Texas Rangers have launched a new investigation into the conduct of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s office in relation to a questionable $11 million ‘vaccine outreach’ contract. The investigation comes in the wake of a bid-rigging scandal involving Hidalgo’s top three staffers who were indicted in April 2022.
The contract had been awarded to Elevate Strategies, a firm founded by one of Hidalgo’s political allies, Felicity Pereyra. The revelation that the firm was a one-person entity with no relevant experience led to the contract’s cancellation. Hidalgo’s Chief of Staff, Alex Triantaphyllis, Policy Director Wallis Nader, and a co-defendant, Aaron Dunn, were charged with misuse of official information and tampering with government documents in connection with the contract.
This development follows reports that federal authorities have also initiated their own inquiry into Hidalgo’s bid-rigging activities. The investigation has raised serious concerns about the concealment of records that were subpoenaed in connection with a grand jury’s review of the contract award.
Documents uncovered during the investigation shed light on several concerning practices within Hidalgo’s office. Among them are revelations that office employees used their personal phones for communication related to the contract, and that draft documents showed Hidalgo had personally edited the scope of the project well ahead of its public announcement. Additionally, messages suggest that Hidalgo and her staff believed the majority of the county commissioners would vote against funding the project and acted to bypass the voting process to secure the funding for Elevate. Furthermore, WhatsApp messages had been deleted following the initiation of the grand jury investigation.
The unsealed search warrants confirm the Texas Rangers’ concerns about the concealment and unavailability of critical documents and communications during the earlier Grand Jury proceedings. These findings have put the judge’s conduct under the microscope and, as legal expert Wice observed, “it would appear that Judge Hidalgo’s DNA is now in play in this investigation.”
In the midst of these unfolding developments, Hidalgo announced in August that she would be taking a leave of absence to seek treatment for clinical depression. Following her doctor’s recommendation, she checked herself into an out-of-state facility for inpatient treatment in late July. Hidalgo stressed the importance of addressing her personal issues swiftly and stated that she would be temporarily leaving the office while undergoing treatment. She later resumed her normal schedule in October.
The latest investigation into Hidalgo’s office underscores the serious legal and ethical challenges that have emerged from the controversy surrounding the ‘vaccine outreach’ contract. Concerns about transparency, accountability, and ethical governance have come to the forefront, raising pressing questions about the conduct and leadership of one of the county’s highest-ranking officials. As the investigations continue, the consequences for Hidalgo and her associates remain to be seen.