3 Harris County employees face felony indictments in COVID-19 contract case

3 Harris County employees face felony indictments in COVID-19 contract case

Harris County employees face felony indictments for two criminal charges in relation to a controversial canceled county COVID-19 contract investigation, according to the Harris County District Clerk’s online records. (Courtesy Fotolia)

Three Harris County senior employees are facing indictments for the felony charges of misuse of official information and tampering with record as of April 11, according to Harris County District Clerk online records. The indictments come one month after search warrants were first executed in connection with a controversial county contract.

Aaron Dunn, Wallis Nader and Alex Triantaphyllis are each facing warrants for their arrests for the criminal charges, according to the district clerk’s records. Dunn, Nader and Triantaphyllis serve as the senior advisor for public safety and emergency management; policy director; and chief of staff for Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s office, respectively.

Search warrants were first executed in connection with the investigation for electronic devices belonging to Dunn, Nader and Triantaphyllis on March 11 and March 16 by the Texas Rangers. The investigation began in October over the county’s canceled $11 million COVID-19 vaccine outreach contract with Elevate Strategies.

A third warrant in relation to the case was executed for 14 digital Google files, according to a March 10 affidavit by Texas Ranger Daron Parker from the District Clerk. The Google files are thought to possibly contain early versions of the vaccine outreach request for proposals that eventually became public in mid-February 2021—before Elevate Strategies won the contract in June. The warrant documents were filed with the district clerk on April 1.

According to the district clerk’s documents, accounts owned by Hidalgo, Dunn, Nader, Triantaphyllis and three other county employees—Communications Director Rafael Lemaitre, former Chief of Staff Joe Madden and Hidalgo’s legal counsel Kathryn Kase—were searched for the digital files. The warrant was executed March 3, and all 14 digital files were retrieved.

“We’ve yet to see the substance of the charges and can’t comment until we do,” Hidalgo’s Campaign Spokesperson Toni Harrison said in an email on April 11.

As previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper, the search warrants were granted based on evidence provided by Parker in his investigation of the county’s canceled contract with firm Elevate Strategies, which Harris County hired to conduct community outreach encouraging county residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19. After controversy arose surrounding the contract, commissioners voted unanimously to terminate the contract Sept. 14.

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