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NJDSC counsel Raj Parikh. (Photo: NJ Globe file photo).

Parikh: No transition investigation to protect Brennan

By Nikita Biryukov, January 25 2019 4:20 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy’s transition Counsel Raj Parikh on Friday told the Special Committee on Oversight that the transition did not conduct an investigation into the sexual assault allegations against former Schools Development Authority chief of staff Al Alvarez to protect his accuser from retaliation.

State Housing and Mortgage Financing Agency chief of staff Katie Brennan has accused Alvarez of sexually assaulting her in April 2017.

At the time, Alvarez was in charge of Muslim and Latino outreach for the campaign, for which Brennan later became a volunteer.

When Justin Braz, now Murphy’s deputy chief of staff, first informed Parikh of the allegations against Alvarez, he did not reveal Brennan’s identity.

Because of this, Parikh said, the transition had limited options in seeking recourse. It could not, he said, mount an investigation because with so little to go on, investigators would be forced to interview Alvarez, who was deputy director of personnel for the transition, and open Brennan up to retaliation.

Parikh advised former Murphy chief of staff Pete Cammarano and Braz to not discuss the matter with Alvarez.

When he made Parikh aware of the allegations, Braz told him charges were going to be filed against Alvarez. The Hudson County Prosecutor’s office declined to file charges against Alvarez, but in the interim, Parikh advised against separating Alvarez from his role in the transition, as doing so could make the transition vulnerable to a discrimination lawsuit.

Instead, the transition stripped Alvarez’s ability to make final hiring decisions in order to stop him from simply throwing Brennan’s resume in the trash. By that point in December, the transition was winding down and primarily forwarding resumes to the relevant incoming agency heads.

All three have said they did not tell Murphy about the allegations, but Parikh said it was possible there was a conversation about telling Murphy at some point in time.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article said Brennan was a campaign volunteer in April 2017. She began volunteering in the summer.

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