TRENTON — It's New Jersey government's unsolved mystery. Who hired Al Alvarez?

During a legislative hearing on Tuesday, in which the former Phil Murphy campaign and administration staffer accused of raping a colleague testified, the question remained unanswered.

Alvarez, the former chief of staff for the Schools Development Authority, was accused by Katie Brennan of raping her at her home when they both worked for Phil Murphy's gubernatorial campaign in the summer of 2017. Several months later, he was hired for the $140,000-salary SDA position despite the allegations being reported by Brennan to police and officials within the Murphy administration. Brennan also later emailed Murphy and his wife Tammy about needing to discuss a "sensitive matter" but never got the opportunity.

In his opening statement on Tuesday, Alvarez stood by his earlier assertion that his sexual contact with the married Brennan was consensual. The purpose of the hearing, however, was to determine who hired him and not to discuss Brennan's allegations.

Previous hearings in which current and former administration officials testified have been unable to get to the bottom of who was responsible for giving Alvarez his job. The Democratic-led hearings are exploring the hiring practices of the Democratic administration, which have come under fire over questions of patronage and accountability.

During questioning by Michael Critchley, the outside counsel hired to help the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Tuesday, Alvarez said Brendan Gill hired him to join the Murphy gubernatorial campaign and Jose Lozano brought him into the transition team.

Alvarez said Lozano and incoming chief of staff Pete Cammarano interviewed him for the position and they discussed salary. Alvarez said he initially interviewed for CEO of the SDA but learned that Charlie McKenna was staying on in the position. He was told the chief of staff position was available and discussed those job responsibilities with McKenna.

Albert Alvarez testifying at his Senate hearing (Michael Symons, Townsquare Media NJ)

Despite being asked four times by Critchley, Alvarez could not name the person who essentially told him "you're hired."

After Brennan's allegations became known in the spring of 2018, Alvarez said that McKenna told him he should "separate himself" from working for the state. Alvarez did not step down until October, just before Brennan's allegations were published by the Wall Street Journal that month. Alvarez also said he thought he would have the opportunity to defend himself against Brennan's allegations and wanted assistance to find another job.

He has never been charged with a crime. The Hudson County Prosecutor's Office declined to charge him. The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, which reviewed Hudson's investigation after it became news, reached the same conclusion last year.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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