NJ probe costs $1.6 million — and they still don’t know who hired Alvarez
TRENTON — New Jersey taxpayers will foot a roughly $1.6 million bill from legal costs in the probes from Gov. Phil Murphy's administration and lawmakers into the hiring an ex-official who was accused of sexual assault.
Prosecutors ultimately did not charge former Schools Development Authority official Albert Alvarez after Katie Brennan accused him of sexually assaulting her in 2017 while they worked to elect Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.
But her account published last year in a newspaper sparked months-long probes by both Murphy's team and lawmakers. Alvarez has denied any wrongdoing . Brennan serves as the chief of staff at the state's housing mortgage finance agency.
Invoices from the state attorney general's office obtained by The Associated Press show the law firms Murphy hired have billed the state about $1.2 million.
Murphy hired Lowenstein Sandler, which worked on behalf of the administration during public testimony before a legislative panel investigating Murphy's hiring practices. The firm has billed about $650,000, according to the invoices obtained on Monday.
Murphy also hired former state Supreme Court justice Peter Verniero to investigate his administration's hiring practices. Verniero's firm, Sills Cummis & Gross, billed the state about $530,000, the documents show.
Lawmakers empaneled an oversight committee to investigate the administration's hiring practices after Brennan came forward. Their attorneys billed about $400,000.
Brennan's accusations were first published in 2018 in the Wall Street Journal and rocked the administration, leading Murphy to declare he was "sick to my stomach" when he learned about the alleged 2017 assault.
He hired Verniero and ordered a review of the administration's hiring practices , while lawmakers set up their own investigation.
Since Brennan came forward, the Middlesex County prosecutor reviewed the Hudson County prosecutor's decision not to prosecute Alvarez determining that there was a lack of "credible evidence." Brennan has sued Alvarez and the state alleging in part that officials mishandled her allegations.
Verniero's report came out in February and faulted the transition of the incoming Democratic governor for hiring Alvarez without looking more into the allegation against him.
The transition team became aware of some but not all of the details of Brennan's allegation in December 2017, according to the report and legislative testimony.
Lawmakers are required to file a report on their committee's findings as well, but it's still pending.