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Authorities Execute Search Warrant, Seize Computers in Investigation of Controversial Harris County Vaccine Contract

Authorities Execute Search Warrant, Seize Computers in Investigation of Controversial Harris County Vaccine Contract

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office and the Texas Rangers seized computer equipment from county administrative buildings on Friday for evidence relating to a controversial $11 million COVID-19 vaccine outreach contract that was canceled on Friday. last year amid accusations that County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s office referred him to a political consultant.

Sources with direct knowledge said Rangers and prosecutors had executed search warrants for the devices at administrative offices, including the Preston Street location in the city centre.

The Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Rangers, and the District Attorney’s Office confirmed that a judge signed the warrants, although neither confirmed their content or the investigation they involved. . Rangers said the district attorney’s office has requested search assistance.

Sources said the search focused on the canceled contract since the Court of Commissioners awarded last June for vaccine outreach to Elevate Strategies, a communications company with ties to Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia and d other Democrats. Felicity Pereyra, who runs the company, worked on Garcia’s mayoral campaign in 2015 and Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in 2016.

A spokesperson for Garcia said the search did not involve the Enclosure 2 office.

Elevate won the contract over the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, despite its lack of public health experience and more expensive bid. UT Health had received the most points in a first county scoring contest.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo insisted her office had done nothing improper with respect to the contract and that a procurement committee selected the vendor it said would do the best work. His office said Elevate impressed the committee, which included three staff from Hidalgo and two from the county health department, with a door-to-door proposal.

“The judge has the strictest ethical guidelines ever imposed in Harris County and it has been rock solid from day one,” said Ashlee McFarlane, Hidalgo’s attorney. “It is nothing but political theater since the devices would have been provided on request. What is lacking is any evidence, but what is in abundance is politics.

Hidalgo said elements of the contract review border on conspiracy theories, including an argument that Elevate Strategies is a one-woman company incapable of canvassing. The contract called for Pereyra to hire 50 canvassers to visit neighborhoods with low vaccination rates.

“Spare me the outrage,” Hidalgo said in a heated exchange with Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle at a contentious Court of Commissioners meeting last August. “Go ahead, y’all. Because there is nothing here but a proper COVID response and someone who has gone to great lengths to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The contract would have allowed Elevate to launch a digital advertising campaign and hire canvassers to go door-to-door and talk to residents. Amid intense scrutiny, Hidalgo later canceled the contract in September, saying “the way it is politicized is getting in the way of people getting vaccinated”.

In November, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office issued subpoenas regarding the contract.

“A judge has signed search warrants, which are legal authorization to search and seize potential evidence of a crime,” Dane Schiller, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said Friday. “In fairness to all parties involved, we have no additional comment at this time.”

The DPS said in a statement, “At the request of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, the Texas Rangers (DPS), in conjunction with prosecutors and investigators from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, have served multiple warrants for search this morning.

Hidalgo is running for re-election in November. Two Republicans vying to challenge her made headlines on Friday. Vidal Martinez, a lawyer and former prosecutor, called on Hidalgo to resign.

“In order to restore confidence in our county government, I again call on Lina Hidalgo to resign immediately,” Martinez said.

Alexandra del Moral Mealer, Martinez’s second-round GOP opponent to challenge Hidalgo, said she shouldn’t sue for information.

“Leadership starts with responsibility — it can’t always be someone else’s fault,” Mealer said.

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