A New Jersey health official says he was fired for refusing to give coronavirus tests to family members of Gov. Phil Murphy's (D.) top aide.
Christopher Neuwirth, an assistant commissioner for the state Division of Public Health, filed a complaint claiming he was let go for denying tests to relatives of the governor's chief of staff, George Helmy, according to a report by NJ Advance Media.
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"Because I pursued an ethics complaint, I was terminated," Neuwirth said.
Neuwirth said in his lawsuit that the state police superintendent told him that the governor's chief of staff "needs a favor" and requested Neuwirth or a member of his staff go to the home of Helmy's family to conduct coronavirus tests. At the time, New Jersey used only scarce testing resources on people showing symptoms.
After he was asked for the "favor," Neuwirth emailed the health commissioner's chief of staff to warn her about the request.
"Clearly, we cannot say no, or advise them that this test doesn't matter, and it's a complete waste of an [assistant commissioner's] time to spend literally 6-hours collecting one specimen," Neuwirth said in the email. "I'm sharing this with you simply for documentation and, in case, this continues to spiral out of control."
Neuwirth said he also explained the matter to a member of his division's Office of Legal and Regulatory Compliance, who assured him it was a "textbook ethics violation."
A spokesman for the governor said the lawsuit was a "meritless complaint" and the governor "look[ed] forward to putting forth a vigorous defense."
Neuwirth was fired on May 28, a month after he says he was asked for the "favor," on grounds that he failed to disclose that he also worked for a private firm. But NJ Advance Media reported that a recording revealed Judith Persichilli, New Jersey's public health commissioner, said Neuwirth was fired because the governor's office believed he had been leaking confidential information to the press.
When asked about Neuwirth's firing, Gov. Murphy said, "I've got no comment on Chris's situation. But I will say this, that folks are not—it's par for the course that you're not supposed to have another source of income, that's just as a general matter."
Neuwirth denied leaking confidential information and said his outside work was mischaracterized.