3 charged with roles in awarding COVID outreach contracts | health

HOUSTON (AP) — Three people who worked for Harris County’s top elected official were indicted Monday after prosecutors accused them of breaching a nearly $11 million contract to spread COVID-19 vaccines to a political adviser with ties to local Democratic officials.

Alex Triantaphyllis, Aaron Dunn and Wallis Nader were each charged with misusing official information and tampering with a recording, according to court documents.

Triantaphyllis is chief of staff to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, while Wallis Nader is a political director and Aaron Dunn is a former senior adviser who recently left Hidalgo’s office. The county is the third most populous in the country and home to Houston.

“We look forward to the upcoming court hearings which will establish that there has been no wrongdoing. These allegations against my client are not supported by a full and objective review of the facts and the extensive evidence in this case. In his service to Harris County, Alex has made people his top priority and has worked to ensure taxpayer resources are used in the most effective and efficient manner,” said Marla Poirot, an attorney for Triantaphyllis, in a statement.

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Ashlee McFarlane, an attorney for Hidalgo, declined to comment until her legal team had an opportunity to review the charges.

“Aaron Dunn is innocent. He is an honest and committed official. He has committed no crime and I am confident that he will be rehabilitated,” said Derek Hollingsworth, Dunn’s attorney.

It was not immediately known if Nader was represented by an attorney.

The Harris County Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

Documents detailing the charges were not immediately available. However, a search warrant released last month alleged that Triantaphyllis, Dunn and Nader had provided non-public information about the vaccine outreach deal to Felicity Pereyra, the founder of Elevate Strategies, giving her an advantage that led to her won the proposal in June 2021.

The search warrant, first reported by KTRK-TV, was part of a raid on several county offices in which investigators including the Texas Rangers seized computers, phones and other items.

The contract, which was part of the county’s effort to improve vaccination rates, was canceled in September after criticism of the way it was awarded and concerns over whether the company that won it had enough staff and resources to manage public relations had been terminated.

Hidalgo had requested that the contract be terminated, saying while it was nothing inappropriate it had become too political.

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