71ºF

Ex-Houston officer accused of assault in bogus fraud claim

This undated photo provided by the Houston Police Department shows Mark Aguirre. Aguirre is an ex-Houston police officer who was arrested on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for an incident on Oct. 19 in which he pulled over an air conditioning repairman and held him at gunpoint believing the man had 750,000 fraudulent mail-in ballots in the back of his truck. Police say there were no ballots in the truck, only air conditioning parts and tools.  (Houston Police Department via AP)
This undated photo provided by the Houston Police Department shows Mark Aguirre. Aguirre is an ex-Houston police officer who was arrested on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for an incident on Oct. 19 in which he pulled over an air conditioning repairman and held him at gunpoint believing the man had 750,000 fraudulent mail-in ballots in the back of his truck. Police say there were no ballots in the truck, only air conditioning parts and tools. (Houston Police Department via AP)

HOUSTON – A former Houston police captain was charged with assault on Tuesday after running a man off the road and holding him at gunpoint in an effort to prove what authorities have called a bogus voter fraud scheme.

Mark Aguirre claimed that an air conditioner repairman was the mastermind of a giant voter fraud scheme. Aguirre said the man’s truck was filled with fraudulent ballots when he ran his SUV into it on Oct. 19, according to authorities.

“The defendant stated (the driver) has approximately seven hundred and fifty thousand fraudulent mail ballots and is using Hispanic children to sign the ballots because the children’s fingerprints would not appear in any databases,” according to an arrest affidavit.

Aguirre told police he and some friends set up a “command post” at a Marriott hotel in suburban Houston and conducted 24-hour surveillance on the repairman for four days, according to the affidavit. He said he then ran the man’s truck off the road, pointed a gun at him, forced him onto the ground and put a knee on his back, the affidavit said.

Police who responded to the incident searched the truck and found only air conditioning parts and tools, authorities said. Authorities did not name the truckdriver, who was not hurt.

“A lengthy investigation ... determined allegations of election fraud were unfounded and no evidence of illegal ballots was found,” Houston police said.

Aguirre told a police officer at the scene, "I just hope you’re a patriot,” according to the affidavit.

Lt. Wayne Rubio with the Texas Attorney General’s Office later told police that Aguirre had asked his office to conduct a traffic stop for his investigation and when Rubio said he couldn’t do that, Aguirre said he would do it himself and "make a citizen’s arrest,” according to the affidavit.

Aguirre, 63, has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Court records did not list an attorney for Aguirre.

If convicted, Aguirre faces up to 20 years in prison. Police have not identified any other suspects.

Police say Aguirre was paid $266,400 by Houston-based Liberty Center for God and Country, a nonprofit organization that is run by GOP party activist Dr. Steven Hotze.

A conservative power broker, Hotze unsuccessfully sued to stop the extension of early voting in Texas for this year’s election. He also sued officials in Harris County, where Houston is located, to limit in-person and absentee voting, making allegations without evidence that Democrats were engaged in “ballot harvesting” by gathering votes from individuals who are homeless or elderly.

Allegations by President Donald Trump and others of massive voter fraud have been refuted by several judges, state election officials, an arm of his own administration’s Homeland Security Department and Attorney General William Barr.

Hotze was also part of a group of individuals who unsuccessfully tried to challenge the legality of drive-thru voting in Harris County.

Jared Woodfill, an attorney for Hotze, said Liberty Center had employed Aguirre’s company and around 20 investigators who were looking into allegations of voter fraud during the election.

Woodfill said he doesn’t know if Aguirre was working on the investigation at the time of the alleged assault, but that Liberty Center doesn't approve of such tactics.

“We would never endorse that, saying go pull someone over, put a gun up to their head and make them open up their truck,” he said.

Woodfill said he would be “surprised if the allegations were true. That seems out of character for any of the people that would be working under Liberty Center."

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said Aguirre’s actions “crossed the line from dirty politics to commission of a violent crime.”

“We are lucky no one was killed,” Ogg said. “His alleged investigation was backward from the start — first alleging a crime had occurred and then trying to prove it happened.”

Aguirre was fired from the Houston Police Department in 2003 after a botched raid in which nearly 300 people were arrested in a crackdown on illegal street racing. Most who were arrested were not linked to street racing and charges were dropped. Aguirre was tried and acquitted on five counts of official oppression.

___

Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70