Last week, the Texas Rangers assisted local investigators with the district attorney’s office in serving a series of search warrants signed by a criminal district court. In the affidavits used to justify the warrants, investigators sought computers and smartphones used by three members of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s staff: Aaron Dunn, Wallis Nader, and Alex Triantaphyllis.
The three had been assigned to the selection committee for the vaccine outreach work in the Spring of 2021. But according to the sworn affidavits, Nader and Triantaphyllis exchanged text messages with Hidalgo’s chief of staff Joe Madden about hiring Felicity Pereyra of Elevate Strategies for unspecified county work in January of 2021. Pereyra is a former deputy campaign manager for Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) and was the data analytics director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Triantaphyllis, who ran against Lizzie Fletcher in the 2018 Democratic primary for the 7th Congressional District, has worked on Hidalgo’s staff since March 2019.
Additional text messages indicate that on January 7, 2021, Triantaphyllis sent Nader wording for a program that would involve development and oversight of “vaccine outreach activities,” to be approved by Hidalgo. Then on January 12, he told Nader, “OK, I got her to agree with this scope.”
“So go ahead and sen[d] it to Felicity so we can see what her thoughts are on $$$,” wrote Triantaphyllis.
According to another of the three sworn affidavits Hidalgo texted Triantaphyllis and Madden on January 14 saying she had “taken a stab” at the scope for the project, and added, “What I don’t know is whether these folks will be in charge of the data or whether Felicity can do the disparities data too[.]”
Further communications show Pereyra communicating with others that she had been contacted about the project and was familiar with the scope description, and that Triantaphyllis had asked Purchasing Agent Dwight Dopslauf to alter requirements for bidding on the project.
Although county documents indicate that the University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center had earned the highest vendor score and bid $7.5 million compared to Pereyra’s original bid of $19 million, on April 20, Triantaphyllis texted the following to Nader:
“This vaccine outreach thing is getting ridiculous. We need to slam the door shut on UT and move on.”
On May 7, Triantaphyllis texted Dunn to say he could not make the [Request for Proposal] meeting.
“Take it away. And don’t let UT get it.”
Although the commissioners court had approved the contract with Elevate Strategies in June of 2021, months later commissioners learned that the chosen vendor was a one-woman firm operating out of a Montrose apartment. Pereyra had only formed the company in August of 2019 and was the sole employee.
After records indicated that members of Hidalgo’s staff had altered minimum vendor requirements and that UT Health Science Center had actually scored higher, under public pressure Hidalgo announced that she would move to cancel the contract last September.
Although commissioners voted unanimously to cancel, a grand jury sent subpoenas to all five members of the commissioners court and to a number of staff members last November.
Although grand juries are typically authorized for a three-month investigation, the grand jury investigating the vaccine outreach contract has been extended for another three months and is now in the fourth month of investigation.
A copy of the affidavit can be found below.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated from its original version.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer 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.