Another top Murphy official denies knowing who hired staffer accused of rape

Katie Brennan, (left), the chief of staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, listens to a question as she testifies before the Select Oversight Committee at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Trenton, N.J. Brennan, a top staffer at the state's housing agency came forward as sexual assault victim and has said too little was done about her complaints, which she reported to law enforcement. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

Katie Brennan, (left), the chief of staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, listens to a question as she testifies before the Select Oversight Committee at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Trenton, N.J. Brennan, a top staffer at the state's housing agency came forward as sexual assault victim and has said too little was done about her complaints, which she reported to law enforcement. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

An attorney for New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s transition team is the latest official connected to the governor saying he doesn’t know who gave Al Alvarez a job in state government early last year, well after several officials had heard that Alvarez was accused of rape.

Raj Parikh testified before a joint legislative committee Friday that he did not hire Alvarez as chief of staff to the Schools Development Authority – and did not know who did.

“I know that this panel has been seeking an answer to its question of who hired Mr. Alvarez,” Parikh said. “Unfortunately, I do not know the answer to that question, nor would I have ever known the answer to that question.”

His statement came during another day of testimony before lawmakers investigating claims by Katie Brennan that she was raped by Alvarez and that her warnings to top Murphy officials were ignored.

This week, the Middlesex County prosecutor’s office announced it was declining to press charges against Alvarez due to “a lack of credible evidence and corroboration that a crime was committed.”

The office had reviewed the file after the Hudson County prosecutor’s office, which also declined to charge Alvarez, asked the state attorney general’s office for a second opinion.

The office of New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal “has reviewed both the [Middlesex] and [Hudson] case files and stands by the independent decisions of both offices in this matter,” according to spokeswoman Sharon Lauchaire.

In an interview with NJ.com Thursday, Brennan said she “went from numb to angry to crying” after hearing the Middlesex prosecutor’s decision.

Three Republican Assemblywomen — Nancy Munoz, BettyLou DeCroce, and Holly Schepisi — are calling on Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez to testify before the state Legislature.

On Friday, Parikh also said that it could have been illegal for the administration to stop Alvarez from getting a job in state government as a result of Brennan’s accusation.

“Mr. Alvarez was a member of a protected class under employment law — under New Jersey employment law and federal employment law,” Parikh said. “Not hiring him based solely on this allegation could have been a violation of that law.”

Alvarez worked as chief of staff at the New Jersey Schools Development Authority for months before resigning in October after being contacted by a newspaper. He has denied Brennan’s accusations.

Still, Parikh said it may have been worth the legal risk of not hiring Alvarez in the administration, yet he testified that no officials asked him for his opinion.

The testimony came about two weeks before George Helmy starts Feb. 4 as Murphy’s second chief of staff.

The former aide to U.S. Sen. Cory Booker replaces Pete Cammarano, who announced his plans to resign this month and who has also testified at length in the legislative hearings on Brennan’s claims.

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