Texas conservative activist charged after contractor accused of assaulting repairman over voter fraud claims

A prominent conservative activist in Houston has been charged with unlawful restraint and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon over an October incident involving a contractor the activist hired, his attorneys said Wednesday.

Jared Woodfill and Gary Polland, attorneys for Dr. Steven Hotze, said the Harris County District Attorney’s Office told them Wednesday that Hotze was indicted over allegations against a former police officer, Mark Aguirre, who worked for Hotze.

Aguirre had been retained to pursue a voter fraud investigation on behalf of Houston-based Liberty Center for God and Country, a nonprofit organization that Hotze runs.

Woodfill and Polland said they had not seen the indictment and it had not been uploaded to the Harris County judicial database as of Wednesday afternoon, but both asserted that Hotze is innocent of any crime.

“He will plead not guilty, he will be vindicated of the charge, and we will demand an apology from the district attorney,” Woodfill told The Associated Press in an interview.

Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics 

“He’s not guilty unless they’ve criminalized political activity,” Polland said in a separate interview.

A spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s office declined to comment.

Aguirre was charged on Dec. 14 with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after a man accused him of running him off the road and holding him at gunpoint in an effort to prove what authorities have called a bogus voter fraud scheme.

Aguirre claimed that an air conditioner repairman was the mastermind. He said the man’s truck was filled with fraudulent ballots when he ran his SUV into it on Oct. 19, according to authorities.

Aguirre told police that he and some friends set up a “command post” at a Marriott hotel in suburban Houston that conducted 24-hour surveillance on the repairman for four days, according to a police affidavit.

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,” according to the affidavit.

Aguirre said he 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 searched the truck and found only air conditioning parts and tools, authorities said.

“A lengthy investigation … determined allegations of election fraud were unfounded and no evidence of illegal ballots was found,” Houston police said.

Aguirre was free on a $30,000 bond. A message to his attorney, Terry W. Yates, was not immediately returned.

Aguirre was paid $266,400 by Liberty Center for God and Country, police said.

A conservative power broker, Hotze 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.

Allegations by former President Donald Trump and others of massive voter fraud have been refuted by several judges, state election officials, an arm of his own administration’s Homeland Security Department and former Attorney General William Barr.

Hotze was also part of a group of individuals who unsuccessfully tried to challenge the legality of drive-thru voting in Harris County.