3 indicted for roles in awarding COVID outreach contract
HOUSTON (AP) — Three people who have worked for the top elected official in Harris County were indicted on Monday after being accused by prosecutors of steering a nearly $11 million contract for COVID-19 vaccine outreach to a political consultant with ties to local Democratic officials.
Alex Triantaphyllis, Aaron Dunn and Wallis Nader were each indicted on one count of misuse of official information and one count of tampering with a record, according to court records.
Triantaphyllis is chief of staff for Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, while Wallis Nader is a policy director and Aaron Dunn is a former senior adviser who recently left Hidalgo’s office. The county is the nation’s third-most populous and home to Houston.
“We look forward to the upcoming court proceedings, which will shine a light on the fact that there has been no wrongdoing here. These charges against my client are unsupported by a full and objective review of the facts and the voluminous evidence in this case. In his service to Harris County, Alex has made the people the top priority and worked to ensure that taxpayer resources are utilized as effectively and efficiently as possible,” Marla Poirot, an attorney for Triantaphyllis, said in a statement.
Ashlee McFarlane, an attorney for Hidalgo, declined to comment until her legal team had a chance to review the indictments.
“Aaron Dunn is innocent. He is an honest and dedicated public servant. He didn’t commit any crime, and I am confident that he will be vindicated,” said Derek Hollingsworth, Dunn’s attorney.
It was not immediately known if Nader was represented by a lawyer.
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment.
Documents detailing the charges were not immediately available. But a search warrant made public last month alleged Triantaphyllis, Dunn and Nader provided non-public information about the vaccine outreach contract to Felicity Pereyra, the founder of Elevate Strategies, giving her an advantage that led to her winning the proposal in June 2021.
The search warrant, first reported by KTRK-TV, was part of a raid of several county offices in which investigators, including the Texas Rangers, seized computers, telephones and other items.
The contract, which was part of the county’s efforts to improve vaccination rates, was canceled in September after criticism about how it was awarded and concerns over whether the firm that won it had sufficient staffing and resources to manage the outreach effort.
Hidalgo had requested that the contract be canceled, saying that while there was nothing improper, it had become too political.