Of Concern: County Judge Lina Hidalgo and the $11 Million Dollar "Elevate Strategies LLC" Contract
Updated: May 19
Please click on the links below for the media reports on this story:
In my opinion, this whole thing stinks to high heaven. Based on the media reports, the words "corruption", "bribery", "contract rigging", "cronyism" and, yes, "crooked politicians" all come to my mind. Just like Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, I believe Democratic Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and the other participants in this $11 million dollar contract could eventually find themselves under FBI investigation for potential corruption. At the state level, I wouldn't be surprised if the Texas Ranger's Public Integrity Unit also decided to look into this matter. With many Democratic incumbents coming up for re-election next year, this potential fiasco is the last thing we needed. This could all be legit, but it sure looks bad.
To help mitigate the situation, I urge Commissioners Court to rescind the contract awarded to Elevate Strategies LLC and require all companies to actually meet the existing minimum eligibility requirements before they are allowed to bid on Harris County contracts. To address this controversy, County Judge Hidalgo and the Harris County Purchasing Department need to explain to the public, in detail, why this tiny (one person?) company was deemed eligible to bid, qualified and capable to deliver, and the best overall choice for the $11 million dollar contract ("Targeted Community Vaccine Delivery"). Frankly, it might also be illuminating to know who asked Harris County Purchasing to put this out for bids in the first place, and who picked the selection committee.
NOTE: According to the media reports, the person who created Elevate Strategies LLC, Felicity Pereyra, previously worked on Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia's political campaign. Geez. Not very subtle, guys.
UPDATE 9/9/21: According to media reports, County Judge Hidalgo was the one who proposed hiring an outside firm to conduct the vaccination outreach campaign. The selection process then apparently included waiving bid eligibility requirements, a stacked selection committee, passing over a lower-cost / higher-scored bidder (UT Health Science Center, no less), and then awarding the $11 million dollar contract to a tiny, one-person company headed by a person who previously worked on Democratic political campaigns, including one by Commissioner Garcia. To make matters even worse, it now turns out at least a dozen of the subcontractors listed by Elevate Strategies LLC are also past Democratic political operatives. You just can't make this stuff up. I know things are not always as they appear, but this contract really appears to be a shameless scheme to funnel $11 million dollars of pandemic relief money to County Judge Hidalgo's political cronies. I would like to think County Judge Hidalgo was unaware of all the apparent chicanery but, has it turns out, her own Chief of Staff, Alex Triantaphyllis, was on the contract selection committee. Good Lord.
Great news: After all the controversy and media scrutiny, Judge Hidalgo has agreed to rescind the $11 million dollar contract awarded to Elevate Strategies LLC. I completely support that decision. Of course, putting the cookie back in the cookie jar after getting your hand slapped doesn't make the whole thing go away. Again, there is more than enough smoke here to warrant a thorough investigation - perhaps DA Kim Ogg will step in and get to the bottom of this fiasco. As Democrats, we constantly stress transparency. Let's practice what we preach and let the chips fall where they may.
For the recent media reports on this story, please click on the links below.
UPDATE 12/11/21: The Harris County District Attorney's Office is now investigating the above fiasco, and subpoenas have been issued. This matter could eventually end up in front of a grand jury. For more information, please see the links below.
UPDATE 1/15/2022: The above story is still getting media attention - see link below. I hope D.A. Ogg's staff are able to conclude their investigation prior to the Democratic primaries on 3/1/22.
UPDATE 3/11/22: According to the local media, the Texas Rangers executed search warrants this morning at the Harris County Administration Building, to include two offices used by County Judge Lina Hidalgo's high-level staff. I think it is reasonable to speculate that authorities also have search warrants for all applicable e-mails, text-messages, phone records, etc. surrounding the awarding of this contract, to include those to/from the subcontractors listed in the Elevated Strategies LLC bid proposal. In the U.S., a person is assumed innocent until proven guilty. That said, if what appears to have happened last year actually did happen, then the first participant to cut a deal with prosecutors will walk and everyone else will take the fall. When applicable, that realization can often motivate a person to come forward. Stay tuned.
For some of the relevant media reports from this morning, please see below:
UPDATE 3/18/22: Based on the details in the search warrant, investigators have already uncovered a large amount of evidence showing that County Judge Lina Hidalgo's high-level staff provided Felicity Pereyra (Elevate Strategies LLC) with the county's draft Request for Proposals (RFP), to include the scope of work, about a month prior to the RFP being sent out for competitive bids. In addition, while on the RFP Selection Committee, these officials then allegedly conspired to ensure Elevate Strategies LLC was awarded the county contract. At minimum, these officials appear guilty of committing two felonies: Tampering with a government document and misuse of official information.
In the search warrant, there are also references to "JLH" in the staff text messages, which indicates that Judge Lina Hidalgo was directly involved in this contract fiasco (in some way). While Judge Hidalgo may eventually claim her senior employees went rogue and acted on their own, the reality is high-level, appointed officials in the County Judge's Office get paid to follow the orders of their elected official (the County Judge). It's hard to imagine one, much less three, of Hidalgo's high-level staff acted without direct orders from their boss. Frankly, it appears felony indictments are now very likely. Stay tuned.
For more information, please see the media links below:
UPDATE 4/8/22: For recent developments on this matter, to include our thoughts, please see the link below:
UPDATE 4/11/22: Today, three of County Judge Lina Hidalgo's top office staff members, including her Chief of Staff, were indicted on felony charges related to the $11 million dollar contract awarded to Elevate Strategies LLC last year. Now, we just need to wait and see if one (or more) of the indicted staff decide to make a deal with prosecutors and testify against anyone else who may have been involved. I think we all know where this is headed...
For more information on the felony indictments, please click on the media links below:
UPDATE 4/19/22: Houston columnist and Fox26 contributor Mr. Bill King has pointed out numerous irregularities which strongly indicate that Elevate Strategies LLC submitted exorbitant invoices for work not actually performed and that Harris County rushed to approve and pay those invoices (totaling over $1.4 million dollars) even as the contract was being cancelled. After reviewing the media report and Mr. King's opinion article, we agree this matter definitely warrants an investigation. To that end, we urge Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg to expand her criminal investigation of this contract to include whether fraudulent invoices were submitted by Elevate Strategies LLC and, if so, whether any Harris County official(s) knowingly approved those fraudulent invoices. It could also be enlightening to find out if anyone intervened in the normal county financial process to expedite those payments to Elevate Strategies LLC. It is worth noting that the Harris County Attorney's Office advised they have already recovered approximately $200,000 of the money paid to Elevate Strategies LLC and that Elevate Strategies has agreed to pay back an additional $500,000. Frankly, vendors that submit legitimate invoices and comply with all the terms of their contracts don't usually agree to pay back the money they receive...
To view the Fox26 media report and read Mr. King's article, please click on the links below:
UPDATE 5/19/22: Yesterday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo stated she expects to be indicted in the alleged bid-rigging corruption scandal that has already led to the indictments of three of her top staffers. Judge Hidalgo attacked Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, stating that the investigation into the Elevate Strategies LLC contract is politically motivated (of note, Hidalgo and Ogg are both Democrats). DA Ogg denies politics is involved, stating that the investigation is based on the evidence and facts. When presented with the evidence, a grand jury indicted Hidalgo's top staff, with the criminal investigation still on-going. Now, it is possible that one (or more) of Hidalgo's indicted staff is cooperating with DA investigators (made a plea-bargain deal) so, as more evidence comes to light, more felony indictments may indeed be forthcoming. Stay tuned...
For more information, please click on the media links below:
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