Former Houston Police Captain Arrested, Allegedly Paid $266,400 by ‘Liberty Center for God and Country’ to ‘Investigate Electoral Fraud’

In an unnerving example of how disinformation can erupt into the real world, former Houston police captain Mark Aguirre was arrested on December 15 2020 in connection with a strange, sprawling conspiracy theory involving political megadonors and fantasies about election fraud.

On December 16 2020, the Associated Press reported on Aguirre’s arrest and the bizarre preceding circumstances:

A former Houston police captain was charged with assault Tuesday [December 15 2020,] 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 an air conditioner repairman was the mastermind of the [election fraud] scheme and said he believed the man’s truck was filled with fraudulent ballots when he ran his SUV into it on Oct. 19 [2020], according to authorities.

“The defendant [Aguirre] 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.

The story also noted that responding officers searched the truck “and found only air conditioning parts and tools.” The Houston Chronicle provided additional details of Aguirre’s alleged interaction with the repairman on October 19 2020, summarizing the incident and reporting:

An air conditioning repairman was driving in south Houston around 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 19 [2020] when a black SUV rammed the back of his truck. When he pulled over in the darkness and got out to check if the other driver was OK, the man in the SUV drew a pistol and ordered him to the ground.

He complied. As the other driver drove a knee into his back, the repairman saw two other vehicles pull up, and feared he would be killed in what he believed was a predawn carjacking.

Instead, according to an indictment announced Tuesday [December 15 2020] by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, the incident was a brazen attempt by a former Houston police captain to secure evidence to support a far-fetched claim that prominent local Democrats had orchestrated a scheme to harvest more than 700,000 ballots leading up to the Nov. 3  [2020] election. The ex-lawman, Mark A. Aguirre, 63, faces a felony charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon stemming from the Oct. 19 [2020] confrontation.

In that article, District Attorney Kim Ogg maintained that Aguirre had “crossed the line from dirty politics to commission of a violent crime,” adding “we are lucky no one was killed.” Ogg said Aguirre’s “alleged investigation was backward from the start … first alleging a crime had occurred and then trying to prove it happened.”

The Texas Tribune and other outlets indicated that per prosecutors, Aguirre was paid $266,400 by Liberty Center for God and Country — a nonprofit organization operated by Steven Hotze, a Republican “powerbroker” who was in the news in early July 2020 for asking the governor to request that the National Guard “shoot to kill” Black Lives Matter protesters — and that Aguirre was acting as a “private investigator” for the group.

Hotze’s attorney and spokesman confirmed that Aguirre was hired by the group to investigate claims of “ballot harvesting,” which was the basis for a whole series of interrelated conspiracy theories:

Prosecutors say Aguirre’s election fraud claims were baseless and that he was paid $266,400 by the group Liberty Center for God and Country, whose CEO is prominent Texas right-wing activist Steven Hotze.

Hotze was among a group of Republicans who unsuccessfully sued to have nearly 127,000 Harris County ballots tossed out this year [2020]. He was also among Republicans who tried — and failed — to stop Gov. Greg Abbott from extending early voting during the coronavirus pandemic, a suit for which Aguirre had provided an affidavit, stating that he was involved in an investigation into a “wide-ranging and fraudulent ballot harvesting scheme” in Harris County.

Jared Woodfill, a spokesperson and attorney for Hotze, confirmed that the Liberty Center hired a company led by Aguirre to investigate voter fraud ahead of the 2020 election. The company contracted approximately 20 private investigators to work on claims of fraudulent ballots in Harris County and other places in Texas. Woodfill said he was aware of Aguirre’s arrest but had not yet heard Aguirre’s side of the story.

“[Hotze] did not direct or lead any of the investigations,” Woodfill said, noting that Hotze instead sent tips and information to the team of investigators to decide how to follow up. “The [Liberty Center] employed the investigation team that looked into the allegations.”

Woodfill was quoted by WSOC-TV on the matter of hearing Aguirre’s account of the incident:

There are two sides to every story. I’d love to hear what he has to say, what’s his version of what happened … The way it was described to me, it just doesn’t seem consistent with what a former captain would do.

That outlet added that Aguirre sought help with his “investigation” from the Texas attorney general’s office. The office “declined and reported the call”:

A few days before Aguirre allegedly assaulted the man [on October 19 2020], he called Lt. Wayne Rubio with the Texas attorney general’s office, requesting help with the investigation. Rubio declined and reported the call. Days later, he got another call from Aguirre, who was upset that police would not intervene based on his uncorroborated accusations, according to the affidavit, which referred to a phone call and email from Rubio reporting the call to authorities. Aguirre allegedly told Rubio he had been in a car wreck with “a voter fraud suspect.”

WSOC-TV added that Aguirre “called the Texas Attorney General’s Office on Oct. 16 [2020] to ask authorities to conduct a traffic stop on the repairman,” adding that Aguirre “said he’d ‘make a citizen’s arrest’ after authorities told him such a stop wouldn’t be possible.” A lawyer representing Aguirre, Terry Yates, maintained that his client’s alleged actions were misconstrued and described the charges as a “political prosecution”:

I think it’s a political prosecution. I really do … He was working and investigating voter fraud, and there was an accident. A member of the car got out and rushed at him and that’s where the confrontation took place. It’s very different from what you’re citing in the affidavit.

According to Heavy.com, the district attorney stated that Aguirre did not mention being paid by the Liberty Center for God and Country — nor did he mention receiving over $211,000 of the $266,400 on October 20 2020:

Aguirre “never told police that he had been paid a total of $266,400 by the Houston-based Liberty Center for God and Country, with $211,400 of that amount being deposited into his account the day after the incident,” the district attorney says.

Aguirre was indefinitely suspended from his duties as a police officer in 2003. He was charged with the second-degree felony of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and faces 20 years in prison if convicted.

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