FBI serving search warrant at Houston Health Department

The FBI was at a city building Wednesday serving a search warrant on the Houston Health Department.
HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The FBI served a search warrant related to allegations involving a city of Houston Health Department employee and marketing vendor on Wednesday.

The FBI confirmed it was at 8000 North Stadium Drive "conducting court-authorized law enforcement activity." The city of Houston said the search warrant was served at the Health Department's administrative offices.

Multiple sources in city hall, the health department and within the legal system have confirmed the names of the Health Department employee and the marketing vendor involved.

Since neither have been charged, 13 Investigates is withholding their names for now.

The investigation is focused on a COVID-era marketing effort conducted by the city's health department, according to multiple city sources.

The vendor did marketing work for the city's COVID-19 outreach team. City records show the vendor worked on a campaign the city rolled out as, "Better Together," which was a way to encourage masking, handwashing and testing in the early days of the pandemic.

City payment records show the company was paid more than $900,000 since the pandemic began.

The money likely came from federal COVID response funds, which could make any impropriety a federal crime.

City documents show the payments to the marketing vendor were for project management and branding. One invoice we reviewed suggests the core objective was "to provide key stakeholders and partners for the Houston Health Department with safe, on-demand and trusted resources to mitigate crisis."

We reviewed more than a dozen invoices and all of them were signed by the city employee named on the search warrant. The name appeared most often under a stamp marked "approved."

The employee is a media specialist, not a mayoral appointee. According to a LinkedIn page, that employee has a long connection to the city.

The FBI said all of the documents connected to the investigation are sealed, which is typical in cases like these. In these types of investigations, the FBI will gather documents and go through them before any charges are filed. It could be months from now, or not at all.

If charges are filed, then the case will be unsealed and the public would have access to those documents.

"As in any given matter, if charges are filed, they will eventually become a matter of public record. Department of Justice guidelines prevent us from providing more information at this time," the FBI said in a statement.

In a statement, the City of Houston said, "the investigation involves allegations concerning a Health Department marketing vendor and employee conduct. The city of Houston is fully cooperating and does not comment on ongoing investigations."

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