HOUSTON - One of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's senior aides implicated in an alleged $11 million "bid-rigging" scheme left her staff for a new job just five days after Texas Rangers served search warrants on the judge and members of her inner circle.
An open records request by FOX 26 revealed that Aaron Dunn began his employment at the Harris County Flood Control District as a "Flood Resilience Planner" on March 16 - just nine days before the court release of Ranger affidavits implicating Dunn and two others in the potentially illegal steering of a COVID-19 communication contract to a little known, one woman firm called Elevate Strategies.
Rice Political analyst Mark Jones says Dunn's rapid displacement "smells rotten."
"When things happen that closely, it's no coincidence. Probably a way to get him to go someplace else, and perhaps remain quiet, about what he knows about Judge Hidalgo's involvement in this whole sordid affair," said Jones.
Personnel records obtained by FOX 26 indicate the move for Dunn was lucrative with his taxpayer-funded salary increasing from $111,000 to $125,000 per year.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Harris County Judge grilled following 'bid rigging' allegations
A separate open records inquiry revealed the senior-level flood control job, for which Dunn was selected, was never publicly posted for other applicants to pursue.
While Hidalgo says she has been advised by attorneys not to comment on the investigation, the judge's political adversaries have plenty to say.
Former federal prosecutor Vidal Martinez is one of two Republican candidates seeking to dislodge the incumbent from office.
"A responsible, honest public official would send anyone on their staff that got subpoenaed or had a search warrant issued against them, would send them home, with pay, pending an investigation. You would not encourage a person or allow a person to go to another department and make more money during that process. It's the exact opposite of what most responsible public officials would do," said Martinez.
Dr. Jones offered his own summary.
"The evidence is so clear-cut and the smell is so bad that it's not something that can be swept under the rug," said Jones.
Multiple legal experts and sources familiar with the case anticipate additional warrants will be issued, and additional targets revealed before the investigation of alleged corruption is complete.