March 20, 2022

County Vaccine Contract Exposed as Blatant Bid-Rigging

County Vaccine Contract Exposed as Blatant Bid-Rigging

Last week, a copy of the application by the Texas Rangers for a warrant to search County records related to the now infamous vaccine outreach contract was made public.  Attached to the application is an affidavit by an officer in the Texas Rangers assigned to investigate public corruption.  The affidavit summarizes the basis of the officer’s belief that crimes were committed in connection with the contract and thus for the issuance of the warrant.

The affidavit lays out a detailed history of the contract.  What is painfully clear from the narration is that Hidalgo and her staff were determined from the outset to steer the contract to Elevate Strategies.  You may recall from my earlier reporting on this scandal, that Elevate Strategies is a one-person company that was run out of a small apartment in Montrose.  The principal of Elevate Strategies is Felicity Pereyra.  Pereyra is a long-time Democratic operative, having worked in numerous campaigns for Democratic candidates.  She has no public health experience.

The Ranger’s narration begins in early January 2021, with a series of texts between Alex Triantaphyllis, who is Hidalgo’s chief of staff, and other senior members of her staff.  These texts discuss proposing a contract to specifically hire Pereyra’s company.  After some discussion among the staff members, Triantaphyllis prepares a draft of a scope of work based largely on a census contract that had earlier been given to Pereyra.  After preparing the draft, Triantaphyllis says to another staffer, “You will need to re-send the draft to her.”  From the context, it is clear that “her” refers to Hidalgo.

On January 12, Triantaphyllis reports to the other staff members that “I got her (Hidalgo) to agree with this scope. . . go ahead and send [sic] it to Felicity so we can see what her thoughts are on $$$.”  Early on January 13, one of the staffers emails the proposed scope of work to Pereyra and copies Triantaphyllis.  Pereyra responds that she will review.  The next day, she asks for a phone conference to discuss.  Keep in mind that at that time there had been no public disclosure that Hidalgo was even contemplating such a contract for the County.  Yet her staff has already determined who the contractor would be, had the proposed and shared a scope of work with her, and apparently had begun to discuss how much she would be paid.

On the evening of January 14, there is a particularly troubling series of texts.  Hidalgo personally revises the scope of work document and sends it to her staff.  One of staff members, Wallis Nader, responds to Triantaphyllis asking, “What’s the scope is she referring to?”  Triantaphyllis responds that it was, “for the thing she was trying to add to Felicity’s scope relating to engaging community groups and stuff.”  He adds, “Probably good for campaign purposes in her mind, but anyway, if she has some intricate picture in her head, I say F it and let her define it . . .”

There are two damning things about this exchange.  First, it clearly shows that Hidalgo was blatantly lying in the August 24 Commissioners’ Court meeting when she did not know who had been selected until the selection committee made their recommendation and then “found out” that it was the same firm that had worked on the census outreach (Video at ~6:10:50).

To the contrary, Hidalgo was involved up to her neck from the outset in the conspiracy to steer the contract to Pereyra.  She did not suddenly discover that Pereyra had previously worked on the census outreach project when she was picked for the vaccine contract as she claimed in Court.  She had personally used the census contract as a basis for crafting the scope of work for Pereyra.

Second, while the phrase “good for campaign purposes” might have referred to a “campaign” to vaccinate people, it seems much more likely that it was referring to Hidalgo’s upcoming campaign for re-election, especially considering that political campaigns were Pereyra’s principal background.  If it is ultimately proven that Hidalgo and her staff were in fact planning to use data generated by Pereyra for her re-election campaign, some people are going to be serving jail time.

The Ranger’s affidavit goes on to describe how the unexpected bid from UT Health Science Center nearly upset Hidalgo’s plans to steer the contract to Pereyra and the lengths that Hidalgo’s staff went to torpedo their bid.  At one point, Triantaphyllis texted another staff saying, “We need to slam the door shut on UT and move on.” Again, all this shows that the purpose was to get a contract to Pereyra, not to get people vaccinated.

It remains to be seen exactly what the legal fallout from this will be.  Now that Hidalgo has been caught red-handed rigging the bid, her legal defense seems to be shifting to the argument that it does not really matter because she had the authority under her emergency powers to award the contract without a bid process in the first place.  I have some serious doubts about whether that is correct, especially considering that the County intended to use federal funds for this project.

It is quite easy to see how some of Hidalgo’s staff could be indicted for process crimes.  The subpoena application specifically refers to “Tampering with a Governmental Document” (Tex.Pen. Code §37.10) and “Misuse of Official Information” (Tex.Pen. Code §39.06), both of which can be felony offenses.  Whether those crimes can be imputed to Hidalgo will depend on what additional evidence surfaces.  But it certainly appears that someone on her staff is cooperating with investigators, so there is likely more to come.

But regardless of the legal outcome, Hidalgo’s aura of transparency and her claim to adhere to high ethical standards have been shattered.  It is hard to imagine Harris County residents will give her a second term after these revelations.

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