Hidalgo chief of staff back in court over bail breach allegation

Three county employees tied to a controversial COVID-19 contract are set to return to court on Friday after prosecutors filed allegations that one of them, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s chief of staff, allegedly violated his bond terms by participating in contract talks, according to court records.

Prosecutors allege Hidalgo’s aide Alex Triantaphyllis “voted to approve procurement guidelines and scope of work” for a childcare-related project on April 13 – the day after a judge drew up a long list of bail conditions for him and two others.

Triantaphyllis and a second Hidalgo staffer, Wallis Nader, were charged the same month with misuse of official information and falsification under the vaccine outreach contract after an investigation by the US Attorney’s office Harris County and the Texas Rangers accused the two of running the vaccine awareness contract. a politically connected supplier. A third county worker, Aaron Dunn, who no longer works for Hidalgo, faces the same charges.

The three men were prohibited from accessing or attempting to access the county’s criminal justice information system, as well as from participating in contracting or procurement committees. Communicating with Elevate Strategies, the vendor at the center of the investigation, is also prohibited, ordered Judge Vanessa Velasquez, who was proceeding to the 351st District Court at the time.

Earlier in May, prosecutors filed a “motion to report bail violations to the court of record” and outlined their allegation that Triantaphyllis represented Hidalgo at an April 13 meeting to ARPA Local Fiscal Stimulus Fund Steering Committee. Such participation, according to prosecutor Michael Levine, is a breach of duty.

Velasquez verbally described the bail conditions and those conditions were not documented in court records. A court reporter who would have transcribed what was said during the proceedings was also not present – leaving it up to lawyers, prosecutors, defendants and observers to listen carefully to every word of the judge.

The three employees, who were due to return to court in June, were due to appear again in the 174th District Court on Friday to appear before a new judge and presumably settle the matter.

Triantaphyllis’ lawyer, Marla Poirot, urged the court to deny the motion, calling the prosecutors’ request a misrepresentation of bail conditions. She argues that Velasquez was demanding a tighter bail condition than the district attorney’s office suggested, that Triantaphyllis not serve on a proposal request committee while the case continues.

The ARPA steering committee, she continued, is not a request for proposals committee and instead focuses on Harris County recovery projects with stimulus funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. .

“The ARPA Steering Committee has voted to approve the Procurement Guidelines and Scope of Work for a separate RFP process to be launched at a later date, to be implemented by a RFP Committee. separate and yet to be formed proposals that will identify and recommend a provider (ultimately for approval by the Court of Commissioners) to serve as an intermediary to increase the availability of childcare services for parents and children of the Harris County,” Poirot wrote.

She called the prosecutor’s request an “irresponsible use of the criminal justice system.”

Hidalgo defended the three as having done nothing wrong.

At the request of the district attorney’s office, the Texas Rangers investigated allegations — while executing four search warrants — that the three staff members improperly communicated with Elevate Strategies owner Felicity Pereyra. weeks before she submits a bid for the outreach project. The Court of Commissioners voted 4 to 1 last June to award the $11 million contract to Pereyra’s company.

Hidalgo canceled the contract in September after Republican commissioners accused her of directing the work to a Democratic firm with no public health expertise. Pereyra previously served on the 2015 Houston mayoral campaign of Democrat Adrian Garcia, the current Precinct 2 commissioner, and worked on Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

According to Hidalgo’s lawyers and aides, the three staffers did not consider Pereyra as a potential seller when planning the contract. Lawyers argue that investigators confused conversations aides had with Pereyra about data-driven work — which was separate from the vaccine outreach project. One of the documents outlining the scope of the outreach contract was sent to Pereyra by mistake, they claim.

Another was sent on an unrelated project. Recordings describing text messages, emails and other communications between aides were shared with the Houston Chronicle to provide context.

[email protected]

Comments are closed.