Steven Hotze, right, appears in court last month after facing two felony charges for his role in an armed encounter between a private investigator he hired and an air conditioning repairman. New court documents show Hotze called then-U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick and discussed the plans to confront the man two days before the episode. Patrick recorded the call.
Two days before a private investigator looking into a voter fraud conspiracy theory smashed into an air conditioning repairman’s truck and pulled a gun on him, far-right activist Steven Hotze called then-U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick and told him about the plans to have “a wreck,” court documents show.
Hotze, who funded the investigation and now faces felony charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and unlawful restraint, asked Patrick whether he could send federal marshals to help his private investigator. The investigator, former Houston Police Department captain Mark Aguirre, faces the same charges.
Hotze’s attorneys long have claimed Hotze was unaware of the encounter between Aguirre and the repairman until he saw it on the news after the episode. The transcript suggests otherwise.
“We’ve surveilled them for the last two nights and still my, my, Mark Aguirre, he said he wants to capture them when they bring (the ballots) out and leave tonight to deliver them but he needs a federal marshal with him,” Hotze says in the Oct. 17 call, according to a transcript submitted in Hotze’s criminal case by the Harris County district attorney’s office.
Hotze added later in the call: “In fact, (Aguirre) told me last night, hell, I’m gonna have, the guy’s gonna have a wreck tomorrow. I’m going to run into him and I’m gonna make a citizen’s arrest.”
Two days later, Aguirre allegedly rammed his SUV into the back of the air conditioning repairman’s truck and pulled a gun on the man around 5:30 a.m.. He expected to find thousands of ballots in the man’s truck, but there only were repair tools.
In addition to the criminal case, the repairman has sued Hotze in a civil case.
The transcript says Patrick recorded the call. It is unclear what Patrick did with the information or the recording after talking with Hotze.
Patrick declined to comment on the call or recording Friday.
“The defendants were early vocal proponents of the claim that the November 2020 election was going to be compromised here in Houston,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement. “Their allegations that 750,000 ballots were forged was promoted nation-wide, spreading distrust among the public and contributing false support for ‘the big lie.’ As bad as that was, It ended much worse for the innocent victim who was forced off the road and then held at gunpoint with a knee in his back until a police officer intervened.”
According to the transcript, Patrick rejected Hotze’s request, telling him that as U.S. attorney he did not have marshals that report to him or investigative staff. Even if he did, Patrick said, he would need probable cause and approval from the Department of Justice to assist.
“I can’t just send marshals. That’s not, the marshals don’t work for me,” Patrick said. “I don’t have any, there are no federal agents that work for me. I don’t have officers, I don’t have investigators, like a DA’s office. I don’t have any peace officers or federal agents that work for me.”
Both Hotze and Aguirre have denied wrongdoing.
A former Harris County prosecutor called the recording “extremely significant,” because the district attorney’s office will have to use the “law of parties” principle — which can hold people criminally responsible for the actions of someone else — in their case against Hotze.
“Having a conversation ahead of time, whether recorded or with a reputable individual such as Ryan Patrick, that there was a plan to have an accident — that certainly shows he was involved in this conspiracy,” said Nathan Hennigan, a former prosecutor who worked at the district attorney’s office from 2008 to 2017.
“It’s basically what you would need to prosecute this case,” he said.
Jared Woodfill, one of Hotze’s attorneys, said the tape actually will help prove his client’s innocence.
“It is shocking that the Harris County DA would attempt to prosecute Dr. Hotze based on an incomplete recording that proves Dr. Hotze’s innocence,” Woodfill said. “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.”
Prosecutors still will have to show Hotze was attempting to aid Aguirre in the alleged crime, by soliciting, encouraging, directing, aiding, or attempting to aid the other person to commit the offense. To make that argument, they likely would point to the fact Hotze was paying Aguirre to carry out his investigation.
Hotze funded the operation through his group called Liberty Center for God and Country, paying Aguirre — a disgraced former police captain fired in 2003 — more than $266,000 for his efforts. Most of that money arrived the day after the alleged assault. Hotze had alleged a vast conspiracy by local Democrats to harvest fraudulent mail ballots and submit them by the thousands.
Previous court documents said Aguirre had called the attorney general’s office days before the alleged assault and asked it to conduct a traffic stop of the repairman.
In the new transcript, Hotze tells Patrick the attorney general’s office “is just AWOL” and he cannot try enlisting the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, “obviously because they’re Democrats.” Hotze suggests he may try to find a constable who would assist Aguirre.
Hotze also said Aguirre planned to have an official from Immigration and Customs Enforcement there, in hopes of threatening to deport the man to coerce a confession. Hotze said the people “running the ring are all illegals.”
About six minutes into the call, Patrick tells Hotze he has received the information but he has to go. Patrick, the son of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, then was serving as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas.
A longtime GOP donor and rabble-rouser, Hotze has ties to several high-ranking Republicans. He was a talk-radio host at KSEV in the early 2000s, when Dan Patrick was co-manager of the station before launching his political career. Last month, Attorney General Ken Paxton appeared at a fundraiser hosted by Hotze, with donations slated to go to more private investigations of voter fraud.
Separately in 2020, Hotze filed a lawsuit with GOP state Rep. Steve Toth that sought to throw out 127,000 legal votes cast via drive-thru voting, an approach Harris County pioneered during the COVID-19 pandemic. His lawsuit failed, though the Texas Legislature later banned drive-thru voting.
Dylan McGuinness covers City Hall and local politics for the Houston Chronicle. He initially joined the paper through the Hearst Journalism Fellowship program after covering the same beats for the San Antonio Express-News.
McGuinness previously covered the Rhode Island statehouse for the Associated Press and breaking news for the Boston Globe. He grew up in Connecticut, graduated from Northeastern University in Boston, and is a die-hard Red Sox fan.
St. John “Sinjin” Barned-Smith joined the Houston Chronicle in 2014 and covers public safety. Sinjin started his career in Philadelphia, spent two years in Paraguay in the Peace Corps, and prior to moving to Texas, worked at a small paper in Maryland. Follow him on Twitter or email tips to [email protected].
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