Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez could have been aware of rape allegations involving two campaign workers for Gov. Phil Murphy within days after charges were filed, and not 18 months later, as she has claimed.
Interoffice emails obtained by NJ Advance Media apparently show that Suarez was allegedly CC’d on email messages between her investigators that laid out the case, but she told Advance Media that she did not read those emails.
Suarez, according to a letter issued last week by the State Attorney General’s office, received four routine emails laying out accusations of sexual assault involving two campaign workers for Phil Murphy, even though Suarez said she had no knowledge of the case until after it was reported by the Wall Street Journal in October 2018.
Media outlets, including the Star Ledger, NJ.com, and the Jersey Journal obtained copies of the letter and printed parts of them.
The Attorney General’s letter went on to say that Suarez did not read the substance of the emails; nor did she respond to them or forward them to anyone else.
The letter was sent to the legislative committee looking into the handling of the case. The Attorney General’s office, however, has refused to release the emails to the legislative committee to examine.
While Advance Media could not verify the emails as authentic, their report said the emails were sent to more than two dozen prosecutor’s staff members including Suarez, dating back to within three days of the charges being filed. Advance Media contacted others on the email chain. While none would comment on the content of the emails, none denied their validity, according to Advance Media.
The letter to the legislative committee from the Attorney General, however, confirmed that the emails were legitimate and had been issued by a sergeant in the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Special Victims Crime Unit.
Suarez has said she does not read every document that is sent to her, and leaves much of the day-to-day matters to staff members.
“Reports and internal electronic communications were generated and shared among members of the office,” Suarez said in a statement. “As a matter of practice, similar communications were generated in every investigative file, totaling thousands of such communications each year.”
Suarez said the investigation was handled by six members in her office, and that the course of the investigation ran from April, 2017, through November, 2017.
The allegation and investigation
Katie Brennan filed charges against Albert Alvarez in April 2017, claiming he raped her after he brought her home from a Murphy campaign function in Jersey City. Alvarez claims their sexual encounter was consensual.
Brennan claims she told multiple people on Murphy’s transition team and in the administration about the alleged assault. Brennan says she emailed Murphy over the summer about a sensitive matter she wanted to discuss with him, but said she did not provide details. Murphy said he didn’t learn about the nature of her email until October 2018.
The rape charge came at a politically uncomfortable time for then gubernatorial candidate Murphy, since it could have become an issue during his campaign for governor.
Brennan’s attorneys claim Suarez’s office did not prosecute because of political pressure — something Suarez claims is not true.
The sex crimes unit of the prosecutor’s office handled the case. As late as January, 2019, Suarez continued to deny that she knew about the case or its participants even though the prosecutor’s office decided in November 2017 not to file charges against Alvarez. Suarez said she was not involved in the investigation, and did not know about it or the people involved until the Wall Street Journal started asking questions in October 2018.
But emails obtained by Advance Media this week show that Suarez was included in communications about the case from the start in April 2017. A legislative committee looking into how Brennan’s case was being handled had requested the emails from Suarez’s office, but were denied.
Cleared by the attorney general
Suarez gave a sworn statement to the state Attorney General’s office that she was unaware of the particulars of the case until October 2018. But the emails suggest she could have known about the rape charges within three days of when they were filed in April 2017.
On Oct. 30, 2018, Suarez asked the Attorney General to review her involvement in the 2017 investigation to ensure that she did not improperly influence the resolution of the investigation.
The state Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA), created in September 2018 by N.J. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, did have access to the emails, and looked into how Suarez’s office handled the case.
The OPIA, which reports to Grewal, concluded in December 2018 that Suarez’s office had done nothing wrong. As a result of that investigation, the Attorney General’s office concluded that there was no evidence that Suarez acted improperly.
The emails, however, seem to contradict sworn testimony to the Attorney General by Suarez that she was unaware of her office’s investigation or its conclusion not to charge Alvarez until the Wall Street Journal probed the matter in October 2018.
An additional investigation by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office into the Brennan claims also concluded in January 2019 that there had not been enough evidence to prosecute.
Who hired Alvarez?
Alvarez was given a $170,000 per year position in Murphy’s orbit until he resigned as chief of staff at the Schools Development Authority in October 2018 when the Wall Street Journal contacted him about the charges.
A legislative committee looking into his hiring sought to get copies of emails from the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office to determine when exactly Suarez knew, but was denied access. Thus far, no one called to testify before the committee could say who hired Alvarez.
The revelation that Suarez was in the email chain at the time of the Hudson County investigation raises questions about the Attorney General’s review, since a statement from Suarez said the Attorney General and other investigative bodies in the state had access to those emails.
Suarez’s office did not respond to requests for comment about the emails by press time.
Brennan files suit
Early in January, Brennan filed a lawsuit against the state accusing it of using its policy of confidentiality about personnel matters to conceal an alleged sexual assault from the governor and then using that same policy to silence her. The lawsuit was filed in state Superior Court in Mercer County. The lawsuit also names Alvarez and the Murphy campaign.
Brennan is asking a judge to require the state to investigate her claims, preclude it from enforcing the confidentiality directive and declare the directive null and void.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org