Katie wept

Middlesex prosecutor supports HC prosecutor's decision; Suarez role comes under scrutiny

Katie Brennan

Katie Brennan says when her attorney told her Jan. 23 that the former senior official in Gov. Murphy’s administration she had accused of rape would face no charges, she and her husband both wept.

Reports in The Jersey Journal and The Star Ledger quoted Brennan saying her hopes rose when the Middlesex County prosecutor was assigned to review the Hudson County prosecutor’s investigation, which declined to prosecute Albert J. Alvarez for allegedly assaulting her in April 2017 when they both worked on Murphy’s campaign for governor.

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She said the Middlesex prosecutor failed to interview her husband and her best friend, whom she contacted right after the alleged attack. She said she offered to testify in front of a grand jury but was never called.

The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office said on Jan. 23 that it came to the same conclusion as the Hudson County Prosecutor not to prosecute, saying there was “a lack of credible evidence that a crime was committed.” Brennan has told local media she intends to accept the Middlesex prosecutor’s invitation to discuss the decision.

Alvarez has denied the charges.

“The decision by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office in conjunction with the earlier conclusions reached by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability and the Attorney General’s Office should leave no room for interpretation about the independence of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office in the handling of this matter,” said Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez in a statement.

That announcement came at a time when a state legislative committee is seeking emails from Suarez which might shed light on why her office decided not to prosecute.

The committee is attempting to make sense of conflicting testimony alleging that Suarez might have been involved in the case much sooner than she later claimed.

“The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office conducted a complete and thorough investigation into the allegations brought by Katherine Brennan against Albert Alvarez in April, 2017.” – Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office

Alvarez held a key position in the Murphy campaign for outreach to the Latino and Muslim communities. After Murphy won, he was hired – no one will say by whom – for a $170,000-a year job with the New Jersey Schools Development Authority, from which he ultimately resigned.

Attorneys for Alvarez said their client has stated from the beginning that the events in April 2017 were consensual and that lack of credible evidence of a crime has again cleared him of wrong-doing. They went on to say that although cleared by two investigations his forced resignation may have devastated his career.

Who knew what, and when?

The legislative committee is seeking to find out who hired him and whether or not Murphy knew of the allegations at the time.

The central question that seems to be at the heart of the legislative committee’s inquiry is whether or not members of the Murphy campaign, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office or other Democrats deliberately tried to keep these charges from becoming public in the middle of Murphy’s campaign for governor.

An attorney representing Suarez has indicated that her office will not likely release the emails.

A statement issued by Suarez’s office on Jan. 18 said: “The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office conducted a complete and thorough investigation into the allegations brought by Katherine Brennan against Albert Alvarez in April, 2017. That investigation was handled professionally by six members of the office with almost 85 years of combined experience among them. The course of the investigation ran from April, 2017 through November, 2017.”

Before leaving as chief of staff for Gov. Murphy earlier this month, Peter Cammerano testified before the legislative committee that he had originally believed that the Hudson County Prosecutor‘s Office would make an arrest in early December 2017 but learned within a day that charges would not be filed.

He also told the committee that he suggested that Alvarez resign in early 2018, which Alvarez did not do until after the Wall Street Journal contacted him in October 2018 before the paper broke the story about Brennan’s allegations.

In another statement, Suarez said that between April 2017 and November 2017, the Special Victims Unit of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office investigated allegations of sexual assault made by Brennan against Alvarez.

“I was unaware of the investigation as it was ongoing, which is not unusual in an office that handles hundreds of investigations each year. I became aware of the investigation on October 2, 2018, through a media inquiry by the Wall Street Journal. After review of the file, I issued a statement on October 17, 2018, stating emphatically that I completely stood behind the investigation conducted by the Special Victims Unit.”

Cammerano and others testified that they did not inform the governor about the situation. Brennan, however, said she had reached out to Murphy after learning that the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office would not prosecute. His widely reported response, according to her, was “Hang in. We’re on it.”

However, Murphy in a published account said he was unaware of the situation until the Wall Street Journal published its account in October 2018.

Brennan did what she was supposed to do

Brennan apparently did everything right. She reported the incident to the Jersey City police, who referred the matter to the sex crimes unit of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office in April 2017. She received a rape kit and testing.

But in December, 2017 – after Murphy had been elected – the prosecutor’s office decided not to prosecute Alvarez. Cammerano said he had first been told there might be an arrest soon, but within hours or a day learned that the prosecutor’s office had chosen not to prosecute.

According to published sources, Alvarez allegedly offered Brennan $15,000 to drop the charges, which she refused to do.

In testimony before the legislative committee, top Murphy officials including the governor’s counsel said they did not notify the governor about the situation.

After the story broke, Suarez informed the attorney general that she had to step back from the case because she knew both Brennan and Alvarez.

Suarez withdrew from the case after it became public

Suarez said she was not aware of the details of the case until they became public. But that was nearly a year after her office concluded a nine-month investigation and chose not to prosecute Alvarez.

According to a statement issued by Suarez’s office, the prosecutor made two requests of Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. The first, on Oct.12, 2018 – two days before the Wall Street Journal published its story – was to have another county prosecutor’s office review the Brennan/Alvarez file and her office’s handling of the matter to ensure that it was properly investigated and handled at all times.

The Middlesex County prosecutor’s Jan. 23 statement was the result.

Following speculation in the media about the Hudson County Prosecutor’s handling of this investigation a second request was made by Suarez on Oct. 30, 2018, asking Attorney General Grewal to conduct a review of Prosecutor Suarez’s involvement in the 2017 investigation to ensure that the prosecutor did not improperly influence the resolution of the investigation.

The legislative committee, however, is seeking Suarez’s emails to determine if she was involved in the case early on. The legislators are looking for emails that Suarez received starting on April 10, 2017.

Attorney Ralph Lamparello, representing the prosecutor’s office, however, told the committee that the emails were confidential and part of an investigatory process.

Criminal investigation reports and internal electronic communications that were generated were shared among members of the prosecutor’s office, according to a statement from Suarez’s office.

“As a matter of practice, similar communications were generated in every investigative file, totaling thousands of such communications each year,” the statement said. “The Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) under the auspices of the Attorney General conducted an official review and concluded there was no improper conduct or influence by Prosecutor Suarez. As part of its review, the OPIA examined the complete investigative file of the HCPO for this matter, as well as other documents, including emails related to the investigation. OPIA had access to and was able to review every single document in that file and all the stored data pertaining to the Brennan/Alvarez matter, and did so exonerating Prosecutor Suarez completely.”

“In a letter dated Nov. 27, 2018, Attorney General Grewal advised that he concurred with OPIA’s conclusion that there was no evidence that Prosecutor Suarez acted improperly with respect to the HCPO’s investigation.”

To comment on this story online, visit hudsonreporter.com. Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com