Grand jury subpoenas Harris County commissioners in connection to canceled $11M vaccine outreach contract

HARRIS COUNTY – A Harris County contract to conduct an outreach campaign to encourage COVID vaccinations was canceled in September, but the issue has come back to life in the form of grand jury subpoenas for every member of the Harris County Commission.

“Anytime an entire commissioners court gets subpoenaed, that’s unusual,” said former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. “I don’t remember that ever happening.”

Emmett, who is also a current KPRC 2 analyst said one of the central questions for the grand jury will likely be how a company known as Elevate Strategies was able to outbid other entities -- including UT Health -- even though their $11 million bid was $4 million higher and the company scored lower on key evaluation criteria.

“I think they’re looking at if the bid process, for lack of a better term, if it was rigged,” Emmett said. “If there was a preordained outcome for what somebody wanted. Why was that company selected? What really were their qualifications?”

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo eventually canceled the contract, saying the issue has become too politicized.

A grand jury apparently wants to look into what was a controversial matter almost from the start.

Emmett points out the contract involved federal funds, which could warrant a look from the federal government. However, KPRC 2 legal analyst Brian Wice believes if any wrongdoing is discovered, punishment would probably take the form of a strong warning.

“I think what’s going to happen is the grand jury is going to look at this and say that next time it will likely be wiser for you to award the bid to the company that actually scores higher and whose bid is $4 million lower than the company that you gave all this money to,” said Wice.

Our sources tell us the subpoenas ask for “documents and the process” relating to how the contract was awarded. KPRC 2 did reach out to the district attorney’s office for comment and were told they could neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation until or if a charge is filed.

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