Texas AG stepping in to investigate bid-rigging scandal within Judge Lina Hidalgo's Office

Mycah Hatfield Image
Friday, April 26, 2024
Texas AG assisting in Harris County bid-rigging scandal investigation
Texas AG Ken Paxton's office will assist in the investigation of tampering allegations within Judge Lina Hidalgo's Office.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- The Texas Attorney General's Office is stepping in to assist the Harris County District Attorney's Office and Texas Rangers in the investigation of allegations of tampering and misuse of official information within Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's Office.

"(Thursday) I am announcing that I have asked the Office of the Texas Attorney General to assume jurisdiction of the six public corruption cases pending against three former members of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's Office," District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a news conference on Thursday.

She said she wanted to safeguard the public's interest in this public corruption case. When asked if more defendants could be added to the case, Ogg said it is now up to the AG's Office, but it is possible.

Ogg said this is not a recusal but instead called it a "consent for the attorney general to utilize his concurrent jurisdiction and prosecute the case."

The case against three of Hidalgo's former staffers centers around a now-canceled $11 million COVID-19 vaccine outreach contract awarded to Elevate Strategies, a one-woman firm without health care experience.

SEE ALSO: Texas Rangers launch new investigation into bid-rigging scandal within Judge Lina Hidalgo's Office

Wallis Nader, Aaron Dunn, and Alex Triantaphyllis were indicted on tampering and misuse of official information charges.

According to a release from Attorney General Ken Paxton's Office on Thursday, Hidalgo staffers waived typical financial fitness requirements and even shared details of the potential bid with Elevate Strategies weeks before the information was made public. In 2022, three Hidalgo staffers were indicted by a grand jury on bid-rigging charges.

"Our prosecutors and investigators are the best in the State. They handle every case with utmost professionalism. In this case, as in all others, we will seek truth and justice," Paxton said.

Ogg lost in the Democratic primary to Sean Teare, the former head of the Harris County District Attorney's Office Vehicular Crimes Division. During her news conference, Ogg brought up his ties to the case.

"Teare sought and received the enthusiastic political endorsement of the Harris County judge whose office is at the center of the controversy and ongoing criminal investigation," Ogg said.

After leaving the DA's office in February 2023, Teare went to work for attorney Dan Cogdell, which Ogg brought up in the news conference. Cogdell told ABC13 Thursday that Teare left the firm after winning the Democratic nomination.

Cogdell represents Triantaphyllis, Hidalgo's former chief of staff. He said Teare never had access to the file. Cogdell also represented Paxton in his securities fraud criminal case in Harris County.

During a call with ABC13 on Thursday, Cogdell said Ogg's move was a "desperate attempt to depoliticize a case that was political from the start" and called the situation "dumber than a box of hair."

Teare issued the following statement:

"By a three to one margin, voters rejected the politicized way that our prosecutor's office has been run. Unfortunately, Kim Ogg ignored the voters and called a press conference to attack her opponents and make clear that fighting political feuds is more important than finishing her term ensuring justice for victims across our county. I have been clear from day one: we must restore integrity to the DA's Office. Even though I've never had any involvement in this case, I have promised to immediately recuse myself and refer this case to another District Attorney to ensure it receives fair and impartial treatment.

These cases were tainted from the beginning, the second they hired the Republican Party's general counsel to lead the investigation. Now, they are being handed over to the most political prosecutor in the state, who will work in tandem with a politically motivated DA.

Throughout my campaign, I emphasized the need to remove politics from the District Attorney's Office. If I were in office, I would have advocated for an independent review by a DA's office with no connections to the parties involved to ensure transparency and fairness. It's crucial that cases of public importance are handled with the utmost integrity and without any hint of political influence.

The people of Harris County deserve a criminal justice system that prioritizes truth and justice above political interests. I remain committed to upholding these principles and working towards a system that is free from political malfeasance."

Judge Lina Hidalgo posted a statement to her social media saying, "I'm not surprised at all, just even more disappointed. DA Ogg showed us months ago the political nature of her work when she secretly hired the general counsel of the Texas Republican Party as the lead prosecutor --all during my re-election. True to form, the DA still has only baseless claims, and now she wants to keep the story alive by handing her case to Ken Paxton, who routinely targets me and Harris County. In her parting days, DA Ogg has sealed her legacy by sending this vendetta to somebody who is constantly engaged in political attacks against me and Harris County. I've said from the beginning that this is political in nature, and what she did just underscores the point."

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