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GOP donor linked to bogus electoral-fraud probe charged with assault

Steven Hotze, the president of Conservative Republicans of Texas, speaks at a “Restrain the Judges” news conference in front of the Supreme Court in Washington on April 27, 2015. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Steven Hotze wasn’t there when a private investigator allegedly held an air-conditioning repairman at gunpoint shortly before the 2020 election in what authorities called a misguided scheme to uncover electoral fraud.

But prosecutors said Hotze paid Mark Aguirre, a former Houston police captain, more than $266,000 to conduct the bogus surveillance operation. For that, the 71-year-old Texas GOP megadonor has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and unlawful restraint.

The charges, issued Wednesday, come about a year and a half after the incident, which highlighted contentious claims of electoral fraud during the last presidential election — claims that remain unsubstantiated. Aguirre had allegedly claimed the repairman’s truck contained 750,000 illegal ballots signed by Hispanic children with untraceable fingerprints. Instead, police found parts for air conditioners.

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In 2020, a nonprofit organization that Hotze created, Liberty Center for God and Country, paid 20 private investigators close to $300,000 to lead a probe into illegal ballots in Harris County, Tex., prosecutors said. Aguirre, who police said was one of those contractors, also has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Prosecutors have said the former Houston police captain received a payment of $211,400 on Oct. 20, 2020 — one day after he allegedly rammed his car into the repairman’s truck and held a gun to the man’s head.

Hotze’s indictment was not made public as of early Friday. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gary Polland, Hotze’s attorney, said the fact that his client will be prosecuted is “absolutely outrageous” since he was not present at the time of the alleged assault.

“Dr. Hotze didn’t find out about what had happened until after it occurred and it made the news the next day in Houston,” Polland told The Washington Post. “This is basically one or two steps away from the law of parties.”

According to the state’s law of parties doctrine, a person can be held responsible for another’s criminal actions under different circumstances — such as causing an innocent person to act criminally, or assisting, soliciting and not preventing a crime.

Polland said Hotze’s actions do not fall under any of those categories.

“Hotze donated money to these investigators, but they’re independent contractors doing their own thing,” Polland said. “He didn’t even know about the repairman. He had only heard they might’ve located someone transporting a bunch of illegal ballots.”

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Hotze wears many hats in Texas, where he’s a physician, conservative activist and talk-radio host. He has contributed extensively to Republican candidates and political action committees since at least 1998. In 2015, he backed an anti-gay-rights campaign against the legalization of same-sex marriage. During the pandemic, he filed lawsuits against public health measures. But for the past few years, he’s been at the forefront of the push within the state to uncover alleged electoral fraud.

His efforts date back to 2018. That year, according to court documents, the Republican power player “solicited donations from hundreds of citizens” who were concerned about electoral wrongdoing — particularly about ballots being submitted for dead people.

“My client’s concern was about the ballot security and ballot fraud and wanting to make sure there wasn’t any cheating,” said Polland. “And I like to say ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’ So he ends up getting indicted.”

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Along with the indictment, Hotze faces a lawsuit from the repairman, who is seeking more than $1 million in damages.

The conservative activist’s recent court battles against alleged electoral fraud have so far not proved successful. Despite the impending litigation, Polland said Hotze isn’t planning on quitting.

“If anything,” the attorney said, “he’ll probably double down on it.”

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