Amid the height of the coronavirus pandemic, New Jersey Democratic Governor Phil Murphy was quick to stress that the state was faced with limited supplies of PPE and test kits – limiting tests to only those who showed symptoms of COVID-19 until May.
However, Murphy, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), appears to have joined Democratic governors in Michigan, New Mexico, Illinois, and North Carolina in deciding that COVID-19 rules do not apply to them.
An explosive new whistleblower lawsuit filed against Murphy by a former top state health official accuses the governor and senior members of his administration of trying to force the official, Chris Neuwirth, to perform COVID-19 tests on Murphy Chief of Staff George Helmy and his family, in violation of state rules. Neuwirth alleges that when he refused to pay the house call to Helmy, he wound up getting fired.
NJ Advance Media reports:
A high-ranking state Health Department official mysteriously let go at the height of the pandemic alleges the real reason he was fired was because he pushed back on a request to test relatives of Gov. Phil Murphy’s top aide for coronavirus, calling it a “complete waste of his time.”
According to a newly filed whistleblower lawsuit obtained by NJ Advance Media, Christopher Neuwirth — who served as assistant commissioner for the Division of Public Health, Infrastructure, Laboratories and Emergency Preparedness — claimed that he was ordered in late April to provide test kits to family members of George Helmy, the governor’s chief of staff, for COVID-19.
The lawsuit goes on to accuse Murphy, Helmy, and other members of the administration of “an abuse of power and possible ethics violations.”
This is the latest in a series of allegations of Murphy engaging in ethically questionable behavior to back up his top lieutenants. On his watch, Murphy has been accused of turning a state agency into a “patronage pit,” shielding his former campaign manager who allegedly engaged in “toxic” and “sexist” workplace behavior, even securing him a lucrative DGA consulting gig despite complaints from multiple women.
When asked about the whistleblower allegations, Murphy didn’t deny the charges and referred to Helmy as a “hero,” according to Politico New Jersey:
“…I literally don’t know where we would be in this state without Pat Callahan and George Helmy,” Murphy said. “They are heroes. And they earn that every single minute of every single day. I cannot even fathom what our state would look like without them or Judy.”
At the same time that Murphy’s top lieutenant was allegedly steering scarce testing to his family, regular New Jersey citizens and businesses who violated Murphy’s COVID-19 guidelines faced $1,000 fines and up to six months in jail.
“Governor Murphy’s toxic culture festering in Trenton knows no limits – even in the middle of a pandemic. The governor owes New Jerseyans answers about whether he tried to force a state employee to violate COVID-19 rules by providing rationed tests to his top staffer, and then attempted to cover it up by firing the whistleblower – all while threatening regular citizens with fines and jail time,” said RGA Communications Director Amelia Chassé Alcivar. “These allegations are just the latest example of a disturbing pattern of behavior where Governor Murphy puts his top consiglieres first and the people of New Jersey last.”