Some members of the commissioners court received subpoenas last Friday according to sources familiar with the matter. Reportedly, both District Attorney Kim Ogg’s office and the grand jury are seeking all documentation and communications related to the selection of Elevate Strategies, LLC, including communications with other vendors who submitted proposals.
Commissioners had approved the $10.9 million expenditure to conduct COVID-19 vaccine outreach last June but had only been provided with vague information about the selected vendor.
Later, commissioners learned that Elevate Strategies’ owner and only employee is Felicity Pereyra, who had previously served as Commissioner Adrian Garcia’s (D-Pct. 2) deputy campaign manager when he ran for mayor of Houston in 2015.
Pereyra, who had founded the data analytics firm less than two years earlier, also served as the analytics director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and was director of data for the Democratic National Committee for several years.
After receiving more information, at the August 10 public meeting Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) queried purchasing agent DeWight Dopslauf as to who served on the vendor selection committee and learned that only individuals from county Judge Lina Hidalgo’s office and the public health department had been involved.
At that meeting, Hidalgo accused Cagle of a “bold-faced lie” when he referred to Elevate Strategies as a “one-woman company.” As questions continued to mount about the contract, later that month Hidalgo continued to deny there were issues with the process saying, “Bring it on, because there is nothing here.”
In September, however, the public learned that Elevate Strategies had not been the top-scoring vendor seeking the contract, and after the University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center earned a score of 240 to Elevate Strategies’ 204, a member of Hidalgo’s office instructed Dopslauf to disqualify UT.
Additional emails obtained by The Texan indicate that on January 27, 2021 Hidalgo staffers Alex Triantaphyllis and Aaron Dunn had requested significant changes to experience and qualifications required to bid on the project. In some instances, the two requested reductions in the number of years of experience needed, but also changed “required” to “preferred,” and removed some requirements altogether.
Further documents revealed that the UT Health Science Center had proposed completing the project for $7.5 million while Elevate Strategies originally requested $19.3 million, later modifying the amount before final approval.
In September, Hidalgo announced the contract had become too “politicized,” and that she would move to cancel. Although the county had already paid $539,000 to Pereyra’s company, commissioners unanimously voted to cancel the contract.
According to Texas law code, grand jury proceedings are secret. Neither the district attorney nor any members of the commissioners’ court would comment, but sources say some of the subpoenas have already been served. Depending on findings, the grand jury could move to indict one or more individuals on any number of charges ranging from misdemeanors related to bid-rigging up to felony charges of abuse of office.
Fort Bend County has also awarded a vaccine outreach contract to a pair of highly connected local Democratic strategists Shekira Dennis and Erika Johnson operating under the name Nest Wave Strategies.
Documentation from Next Wave Strategies states that the company will develop maps of “high resistance clusters throughout Fort Bend County, and reports that they will divert $90,000 of the award to subcontractors, one of which was founded by a former policy aide to then-state senator and current Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis.
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Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.