A prominent Texas GOP activist has been charged with unlawful restraint and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in connection with a bizarre incident in October involving an air conditioning contractor whom he suspected of vote tampering.
Lawyers for Dr. Steven Hotze, who runs the Houston-based nonprofit Liberty Center for God and Country, told the Associated Press that their client was indicted over allegations against a former police officer, Mark Aguirre, who worked for Hotze. They said Hotze will plead not guilty.
The current charges can be traced back to an incident that occurred in October 2020 in which Aguirre, allegedly acting on Hotze's behest, conducted a private investigation of a man he suspected of being involved in what authorities now call a bogus voter fraud scheme.
Aguirre claimed that an air conditioner repairman, who Hotze had hired, was the mastermind of the plot and had "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 that 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 Associated Press report, "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. When Rubio said he could not do that, Aguirre said he would do it himself and 'make a citizen’s arrest.'"
On Oct. 19, 2020, Aguirre 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 reported finding only air conditioning parts and tools after a search of the truck.
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 told the Associated Press. “His alleged investigation was backward from the start — first alleging a crime had occurred and then trying to prove it happened.”
Aguirre, who was paid $266,400 by Liberty Center for God and Country according to police, 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.
Hotze is a conservative power broker and unsuccessfully sued to stop the extension of early voting in Texas for the 2020 election. He also sued officials in Harris County to limit in-person and absentee voting, alleging without evidence that Democrats were engaged in “ballot harvesting” by gathering votes from individuals who are homeless or elderly.