HOUSTON (AP) — A Houston conservative activist charged with unlawful restraint and aggravated assault had asked a U.S. attorney in Texas to provide federal marshals to help his private investigator seize what were believed to be fraudulent voter ballots from an air conditioner repairman’s vehicle.
A transcript of a phone call from Dr. Steven Hotze to then U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick filed in district court in Houston says Hotze told Patrick of plans by private investigator Mark Aguirre to cause the repairman’s vehicle to crash and for Aguirre to make a citizen’s arrest.
Aguirre has also been charged with the same offenses and both men have said through their attorneys that they did nothing wrong. Patrick, now in private practice, declined comment. Both men are out on bail.
Aguirre had hoped to seize what was believed were thousands of fraudulent voter ballots, but the vehicle carried only tools, prosecutors have said.
Then-President Donald Trump and others falsely claimed there was massive voter fraud in the November 2020 presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden.
“He (Aguirre) needs to have a federal marshal with him,” Hotze said, according to the transcript of the Oct. 17, 2020 phone call. “He doesn’t want to get (the) Houston Police Department, he said all the evidence would disappear.”
The Texas Attorney General’s office was not helping, the transcript said and the county sheriff’s office could not be trusted “obviously because they’re Democrats.”
Ryan replied that no federal agents worked for his office.
“I can’t just send marshals ... the marshals don’t work for me,” Ryan said, according to the document.
Hotze’s attorney, Jared Woodfill, said in a statement to KTRK-TV that Hotze is innocent.
“The Ryan Patrick tape further demonstrates that the indictment of Dr. Hotze was politically motivated and that Dr. Hotze is innocent of any criminal or civil wrongdoing. We look forward to proving Dr. Hotze’s innocence,” according to the statement.
Aguirre’s attorney, Terry Yates, also denied wrongdoing by Aguirre. “This is a political prosecution that is utterly baseless in fact or law,” Yates said.
Aguirre allegedly slammed his vehicle into the back of the repairman’s vehicle two days after the phone call, drew a weapon and ordered the man to the ground and put a knee on his back, according to prosecutors.
Aguirre was paid $266,400 to conduct the investigation by the Houston-based nonprofit Liberty Center for God and Country, whose CEO is Hotze, police have said. The group says on its website that it protects and promote citizens’ “God-given, unalienable Constitutional rights and liberties.”
Hotze, a conservative power broker, unsuccessfully sued to stop the extension of early voting in Texas for this year’s election. He also sued officials in Harris County 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.