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January 20th, 2023:

The Chron drops a big Hotze story

Despite the headline, I didn’t find a whole lot of new details of interest here. Most of the new stuff consists of the various unhinged things that Hotze has been saying about elections and how everyone is covering up massive fraud and are out to get him. I don’t need a big story to know that he’s a paranoid power-hungry sociopath, but maybe some other people did; this assumes that most people will read what he claims and correctly conclude that he’s a liar and a grifter, which is at best an iffy proposition. Be that as it may, there are a couple of points of interest here.

More than two years after Steven Hotze bankrolled a private voter fraud investigation that led to an armed confrontation with an innocent repairman, the Houston doctor was back in court earlier this month reiterating claims that Harris County Democrats are engaged in a massive election conspiracy.

Hotze, a Republican megadonor and fierce supporter of the debunked theory that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election, faces felony charges related to the episode and separately is being sued by the repairman. His lawyers this month accused the Democrat-led District Attorney’s office of retaliating against him for exposing the election-rigging, even though no substantive evidence of such a scheme has ever emerged.

The criminal case against Hotze, who runs a lucrative health clinic in Katy and a vitamin retail business, isn’t likely to go to trial anytime soon in the county’s overburdened court system; Hotze faces charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and unlawful restraint, as does Mark Aguirre, the investigator Hotze hired.

But a Houston Chronicle examination of documents in the civil proceeding reveals new details about the bizarre October 2020 attack – one that became a nationally known example of how an election fraud theory could put an unsuspecting civilian in danger.

The documents include extensive comments from that civilian, a Mexican immigrant named David Lopez who has worked fixing air conditioning systems in Houston for more than five years. He said he continues to fear for his life ever since Aguirre allegedly crashed his SUV into his box truck and pointed a gun at him, all under the false pretense that Lopez’s truck contained hundreds of thousands of fraudulent ballots.

“I am afraid because the people who did this to me are very powerful. I have no power,” Lopez said. “I do not know why they attacked me. These people did not find what they were looking for so I am afraid they will attack me again. I don’t know what they are looking for.”

The documents also show that Hotze and his attorneys continue to insist that Lopez could have been a main perpetrator of voter fraud and that he received payments from Harris County Democratic officials. “We’ve got the goods,” Hotze said in a 2022 deposition. “It’s so complicated I can’t – I can’t comment on it right now, but we do.”

[…]

Ever since news of the attack on Lopez became public in December 2020, the details of its origins have been murky. In a news conference around the same time, Hotze claimed that he had paid 20 to 30 investigators a “proprietary” amount of money to look into claims of voter fraud in Harris County and that he knew nothing of their specific activities. He said he paid them through the Liberty Center for God and Country – but for years his lawyers refused to disclose the group’s financials.

Now, the documents made available as part of the civil lawsuit against Hotze, including a tax return for the Liberty Center and a deposition that forced him to answer questions under oath, offer more clues.

According to the Liberty Center’s 2020 tax documents, the nonprofit collected more than $800,000 that year and spent it on “lawsuits to defend the constitutionally protected right of individuals to attend religious worship services, to protect the right of all businesses to stay open, and to ensure that elections in Texas were and are conducted in accordance with the Texas Election Code.”

The first two activities likely refer to Hotze’s lawsuits against mask mandates and other COVID-19 pandemic public health measures. The document also specifies that $379,000 went to “legal services,” while $342,000 went to “investigation services.”

In the deposition, Hotze said he decided to start funding investigations into voter fraud when Aguirre, a former Houston police officer, approached him in 2020. He said he only paid Aguirre, but knew of two other investigators who participated in the probe – Charles Marler, a former FBI agent, and Mark Stephens, also a former Houston cop.

Aguirre received more than $250,000 from the Liberty Center for his efforts, court records show. But Hotze said he never sought much information about how Aguirre used the money. “He would contact me periodically and say, we have got people looking around, seeing what’s going on,” Hotze said in the deposition. “You know, it was somewhat nebulous.”

All Hotze knew, he said, was that Aguirre had apparently discovered that undocumented Hispanic children were filling out hundreds of thousands of phony ballots in locations across the county to swing the 2020 election results in favor of the Democrats.

“From what he told me, it appeared that he was on a hot trail,” Hotze said of Aguirre, who had been fired from the Houston Police Department in 2003 before he became a private investigator.

Aguirre and the other investigators approached the Houston police and local prosecutors with their findings, but law enforcement agencies were skeptical. The investigators took the lack of interest as a sign that authorities were in on the scheme.

“Election fraud is seemingly the only crime whose very existence is denied because of the difficulty and refusal to investigate the allegations,” Stephens wrote in a document obtained by the Chronicle. “In Harris County, it may well be that political expediency is valued far greater than public pressure to prosecute election fraud.”

That 84-page report alleged that a witness overheard a Democratic political staffer bragging about the ability to “harvest 700,000 illegal ballots” in 2019. Another witness later told the private investigators that she’d been approached at a grocery store and offered $50 gift cards to fill out the ballots, the report said.

It’s still unclear how the investigators decided that Lopez could have been involved. His name does not come up in Stephens’ report, which is dated October 16, 2020 – just days before the confrontation between Aguirre and Lopez. Hotze also said in the deposition and in previous public statements that he’d never heard of Lopez or Aguirre’s plans to target him.

See here and here for some background. I truly don’t know how anyone can read these claims and not conclude that this guy is a raving loon, but we live in strange times. He ranges from wildly implausible to literally impossible, with a generous helping of racism and paranoia for extra flavor. Further down in the story you see how utterly indifferent he is to the effect the attack had on David Lopez. All I can say from that is that if Steven Hotze is an example of what a dominant strain of Christianity is today, it’s no wonder so many people are calling themselves “unaffiliated” these days.

The main bummer in all this is that Hotze’s criminal trial is not likely to happen anytime soon, a consequence of the backlog in the criminal courts. There’s an irony there, since the same DA that Hotze claims is out to get him is given a lot of the blame for that backlog. And of course one of Hotze’s assertions in the civil case against him is that it should wait until the criminal case is resolved, so that delay serves him well. That said, the judge in the civil case doesn’t seem too inclined to cut him any slack, so maybe we’ll see some action in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, always remember that Steven Hotze is one of the worst people in Houston, and he’s been that way for decades. If, and hopefully when, he finally pays a price for that, it will have been a very long time coming.

Poncho Nevárez’s recovery

Good story.

State Rep. Poncho Nevárez felt the sudden urge to fall back on old tendencies when the state’s top law enforcement officer gave him a call in the fall of 2019.

An envelope, with his official letterhead, containing about 2 grams of cocaine had been found by authorities on the floor of the Austin airport weeks earlier, Texas’ Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told him.

Nevárez was tempted to cover it up with more of the lies, omissions and deceit that had marked the last several years of his life.

A personal injury lawyer who’d been representing his Eagle Pass district for about six years at the time, he now likens the addict’s mentality to that of a mouse constantly searching for a way to escape traps and still somehow keep the cheese.

It was the same way of thinking that led him to make a choice that any sober person would find superbly dense: taking drugs to a federally secured airport in a receptacle with his own name on it.

“It doesn’t even seem like a choice,” he recalls, adding he didn’t even realize at the time where he’d lost it. “There’s a part of you that’s dominated by the disease that tells you that whatever the risk is, it’s worth it.”

This time, though, there was no room for deception: Police had video of him dropping the drugs.

Weeks later, as a meeting with prosecutors approached, he drank and used again. The next morning, weary and hungover, as he dropped off his son, Ponchito, at school, the reality of how his actions had been affecting others stirred something in him.

“You look sad, papi,” his 9-year-old told him from the backseat, stretching his small arm toward his father, offering him a pouch of Welch’s fruit snacks. “I like these because they make me happy because they’re good.”

“It broke me,” Nevárez said. “I didn’t just need to change — now I wanted to… I just kind of intuitively felt that If I tried to defend it, or if I tried to make it go away, I wasn’t going to survive it, and I’m not talking about the fallout. I’m talking about living.”

At the meeting with law enforcement, he came clean and learned he was eligible for pretrial diversion, an alternative to prosecution for offenders who stay out of trouble and comply with other terms, such as mandated counseling or community service.

That was Oct. 14, 2019. Ever since, Nevárez says he has maintained not just abstinence, as he likes to stress, but the conscious everyday choice of sobriety.

See here for a bit of background. I hadn’t thought much of former Rep. Nevárez since then, though I’d occasionally see him on Twitter, often in the replies to political and Texas media types that I follow, usually making a wisecrack. He’s making music now, and seems to have had some success at it. The impression I came away with from this piece, which includes quotes from several of his former Lege colleagues, is that he is in a better place now, and I’m glad to see it. I hope that continues. Go read the rest and see what you think.

Why are people mad about R’Bonney Gabriel?

I don’t know why this story fascinates me so much, but it does. Please indulge me just a little longer.

R’Bonney Gabirel

Just days after Houston native R’Bonney Gabriel was crowned the 71st Miss Universe at the first Filipina American winner, the Miss Universe Organization has issued statement calling social-media rigging claims “absurd,” according to Today.com.

On Saturday, Gabriel became the first Miss USA to win Miss Universe in 10 years. She beat out first runner-up Amanda Dudmel from Venezuela and second runner-up Andreína Martínez from the Dominican Republic in the contest in New Orleans.

Social media followers complained during the broadcast that the competition was manipulated in Gabriel’s favor. They called it a “fraud” and used the hashtag #rigged in Twitter replies. Multiple competitors complained about alleged rigging, too.

In an interview with E! online in October after similar rigging claims by competitors, Gabriel said, “I would never enter any pageant or any competition that I know I would win. I have a lot of integrity.”

See here and here for the background. The Today.com story contains the more relevant info:

The Miss Universe Organization called accusations that it rigged this year’s pageant in favor of the winner “absurd” after crowning its first Filipina American champion over the weekend.

The organization issued a statement on Jan. 16 denying the allegations, two days after Houston native R’Bonney Gabriel was crowned the 71st Miss Universe.

“The false rigging allegations are absurd and distract from the incredible milestones our organization and the delegates experienced this weekend,” the Miss Universe Organization said. “Instead of focusing on unfounded statements, we will continue to shine a light on global women’s empowerment, inclusiveness, diversity, and transformational leadership.”

The controversy came in the wake of multiple competitors alleging similar rigging during Gabriel’s win in the Miss USA pageant in October.

[…]

The Miss Universe Organization suspended the head of the Miss USA pageant and opened an investigation in October after more than a dozen contestants alleged the contest was prearranged in Gabriel’s favor.

One contestant told NBC News that Gabriel “was allowed to do different walking patterns on stage, when we were all told to strictly follow the walking pattern that we were given to by the choreographer.”

I mean, I know basically nothing about beauty pageants, so I have no idea if those allegations represent legitimate concerns or are basically Mealer-esque whining from people who were beaten fair and square. It doesn’t sound like there are new concerns about the Miss Universe pageant, just a re-airing of the Miss USA complaints. I don’t suppose I can stop myself from keeping an eye on this, so if and when there are further developments, I’ll post an update.