Aaron Dunn, Wallis Nader, and Alex Triantaphyllis were each indicted on charges of Misuse of Official Information and Tampering with a Record.
According to search warrant affidavits, the three allegedly communicated first about creating unspecified work for Felicity Pereyra of Elevate Strategies in January of 2021, and involved Pereyra in crafting a description or scope for the project long before the county solicited requests for proposal from other vendors.
The affidavits also allege that in April 2021, after the University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center earned a higher score at a lower cost than Elevate Strategies, Triantaphyllis texted Nader that they needed to “slam the door shut on UT.” The selection committee later instructed purchasing agent Dwight Dosplauf to disqualify UT for underperforming on another project.
In August of 2021, The Texan first reported that Harris County had awarded an $11 million vaccine outreach contract to Pereyra’s Elevate Strategies. Prior to founding the company in 2019, Pereyra had previously served as the deputy campaign manager for county Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2). Pereyra had also been with Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and worked with the Democratic National Committee.
During the August 26, 2021 meeting of the commissioners court, Hidalgo accused Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) of telling a “bold-faced lie” after he posed questions about the “one-woman firm” handling the contract.
Following Monday’s indictments, Cagle said on social media that he “took no pleasure in being right about this.”
“This is a major black eye for Harris County. Now it’s time for the courts to sort it out.”
Last September, emails obtained by The Texan showed that Dunn, Nader, and Triantaphyllis had instructed Dopslauf to revise vendor experience requirements for the vaccine outreach project. Documents obtained by FOX 26 Houston also showed that UT had earned a score of 240 and bid $7.5 million compared to Elevate Strategies’ score of 204 with a cost estimate of $19 million. Some time before the project award, Elevate Strategies lowered the cost to $10.9 million.
Even before the scoring of proposals, however, on January 14, 2021, Hidalgo had texted about the scope of a project mentioning “Felicity,” and Triantaphyllis later clarified to Nader, saying, “She was trying to add to Felicity’s scope relating to engaging community groups and stuff.”
In the weeks after the Texas Rangers executed search warrants at county offices to seize phones and computers, Hidalgo has publicly stated that her office did nothing wrong and that the communications between her staff and herself were “private” and “taken out of context.”
Although Hidalgo has not been indicted, the grand jury’s work will continue for at least another week and could be extended for a third three-month period.
Local Republican officials and candidates reacted swiftly to Monday’s news.
“Today’s indictments by a Harris County Grand Jury are a major step by District Attorney Ogg in restoring public integrity by cleaning up after an obviously corrupt county contract,” state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) said in a statement to The Texan.
“The indictments of three employees of Judge Hildago prove that Commissioner Cagle was right opposing the Elevate Strategies contact award in August of 2021, that I and many watchful county observers immediately questioned as well. The public’s outrage over this obvious case of Courthouse Corruption is real, and Judge Hildago will not be spared this outrage herself.”
Alexandra del Moral Mealer, in a Republican primary runoff election for Harris County judge, said, “Today’s indictments are also an ethical, moral, and political indictment of our County Judge Lina Hidalgo.”
Republican candidate for Harris County Judge Vidal Martinez took to social media to say county residents “deserve leadership with honesty and transparency.”
Commissioner Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3) told The Texan, “It’s a shame we’ve gotten to this point. I’ve had questions about this contract which I included as a court agenda item on the very day it was canceled.”
“Distrust in our government is not what our constituents deserve.”
Following the execution of search warrants, Dunn was transferred out of Hidalgo’s office to a higher paying position with the Harris County Flood Control District.
Through a randomized process, the county assigned the cases to the 351st District Court under Judge Natalia Cornelio, a former staffer for Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 1).
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Holly Hansen is a 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.