Murphy advisers mishandled rape claim against top campaign official from start to finish, sources familiar with new report say

Updated Jun 3, 2019

Gov. Phil Murphy’s closest advisers made a multitude of mistakes when they were confronted with allegations that a former senior campaign official who later joined Murphy’s administration raped a campaign supporter, according to sources familiar with a long-awaited report investigating the scandal.

By keeping the governor in the dark, refusing to investigate the accuser’s claim, and allowing the accused to remain as chief of staff for the New Jersey Schools Development Authority months after they decided to fire him, the report says Murphy’s advisers missed multiple opportunities to handle the allegations properly, three sources told NJ Advance Media.

The sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the report.

The state Legislative Select Oversight Committee, a bipartisan panel of 15 state lawmakers, is expected to vote to accept the report and release it to the public when it meets Wednesday at the Statehouse in Trenton.

Katie Brennan, the chief of staff for the state Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, told police she had been sexually assaulted in her home by Albert J. Alvarez after he had driven her home from a campaign-related party during Murphy’s primary election bid in April 2017. Brennan was a campaign supporter at the time (and later a volunteer), while he was a senior campaign adviser.

Alvarez has publicly and vigorously denied the allegations. Two county prosecutors reviewing the evidence — one in late 2017 and another after the Wall Street Journal published an explosive story revealing her allegations in October — declined to charge Alvarez with a crime.

Brennan’s claims triggered a series of public hearings by the legislative committee from December to March. The lawmakers examined the hiring practices of Murphy’s transition team and administration and investigated how senior staffers reacted after assuring Brennan that Alvarez would be let go.

According to the sources, the committee’s report says:

Murphy’s aides could legally have told the governor about Brennan’s allegations. Brennan met with Murphy Chief Counsel Matt Platkin to tell him about the rape allegation in March in 2018. When Alvarez remained in the job, Brennan emailed Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy on June 1, 2018 to say she wanted to discuss a “sensitive” campaign matter.

Platkin defended his decision to keep the controversy from the governor, based on training he had just received emphasizing strict confidentiality when handling sexual harassment complaints.

Murphy has said he learned about it on the day Alvarez resigned, Oct. 2, 2018. That’s the same day the Journal asked Alvarez to comment for its story.

Murphy’s transition team should have investigated the rape claim. Brennan testified in December that she gave permission to her friend on the transition team, Justin Braz, to notify his superiors that she believed Alvarez was going to be indicted for sexual assault, but not to reveal her name. But she soon called Braz back to say the Hudson County Prosecutor Office confirmed Alvarez would not be charged with a crime.

“I told Mr. Braz that the criminal case was not moving forward, but now transition counsel knew that Mr. Alvarez had sexually assaulted someone," Brennan said. “I hoped for justice in another form. It never came.”

Braz told his immediate supervisor, incoming Murphy Chief of Staff Pete Cammarano, and transition counsel Raj Parikh, who then told Transition Chief Jose Lozano. But Parikh advised against telling anyone else. Alvarez was hired anyway.

Cammarano and Lozano were responsible for hiring Alvarez. A central question for the committee was who hired Alvarez, knowing he had been accused of rape? Even Alvarez denied knowing who hired him.

Cammarano and Platkin mishandled Alvarez’s separation from government. Alvarez testified he was told twice in March and June he needed to leave, but didn’t because he hadn’t found a job. When asked to describe his job hunt prior to October, Alvarez said: “I may have looked, but was it a thorough search? No.”

Alvarez left his job Oct. 2, 2018.

State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, the co-chairwoman of the committee, declined to comment Monday.

A spokeswoman for Murphy declined to comment.

This is the second report to detail findings in how Murphy’s team handled the case.

In February, an independent investigation ordered by Murphy — and overseen by former state Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero — concluded the governor’s aides made mistakes but acted in good faith. Ultimately, that report found, the “system” failed Brennan.

Political news website InsiderNJ was the first to report about the committee’s findings Monday

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