Judge Lina Hidalgo visited the Harris County Public Health Department in Houston early in the pandemic. Credit: Mark Felix for The Texas Tribune

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Three employees of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo have been indicted by a grand jury on charges related to how they helped award a contract for COVID-19 vaccine outreach last year.

The Harris County district clerk lists two felony counts each for chief of staff Alex Triantaphyllis, policy director Wallis Nader and policy aide Aaron Dunn. The charges are misuse of official information and tampering with a government record.

The charges add weight to a scandal Hidalgo has attempted to dismiss as politically motivated, and they threaten to tarnish her image as an ethically minded public servant as she seeks reelection this year. Hidalgo is widely seen as a rising star in the Texas Democratic Party and a future statewide candidate.

The three employees were part of a selection committee to choose a vendor for a COVID-19 vaccine outreach campaign Hidalgo wanted. The committee, which also included members of the county health department, unanimously awarded an $11 million contract to Elevate Strategies, a small political consulting firm owned by Felicity Pereyra, who has previously worked on Democratic campaigns.

Republicans have seized on this as evidence of corruption, alleging without evidence that Hidalgo was funneling money to help the Democratic Party build relationships with voters. Hidalgo accused Republican county commissioners of spreading conspiracy theories, though she agreed to cancel the contract in September because she said it had become too politicized.

Court records filed by the Texas Rangers, who are assisting prosecutors, suggest the inquiry focuses on whether Hidalgo’s office inappropriately involved Pereyra in designing the bid proposal she would later win.

Hidalgo did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s office said it could only confirm charges after delivering arrest warrants to defendants.

We can’t wait to welcome you in person and online to the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, our multiday celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day’s news — all taking place just steps away from the Texas Capitol from Sept. 22-24. When tickets go on sale in May, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.

Avatar photo

The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is the only member-supported, digital-first, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Leave a comment