Whitman: husband might have seen 2003 Social Security letter warning ex-maid’s status problem

By Michael R. Blood, AP
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Husband possibly saw letter on Whitman maid glitch

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman says her husband might have seen a 2003 letter warning that their housekeeper’s government records weren’t in order.

The letter from the Social Security Administration is at the heart of claims by their former maid that Whitman and her husband knew she was in the U.S. illegally but kept her on the job.

Whitman for two days said she and her husband never received the letter.

But she told KNX radio in Los Angeles on Thursday that she suspects writing on the letter is her husband’s. Her campaign released a separate statement from her husband — Dr. Griffith Harsh — saying he didn’t recall the letter but it is possible he wrote on it.

A copy of the letter was released earlier by the maid’s attorney.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — The attorney for Meg Whitman’s former housekeeper released a copy Thursday of a purported 2003 letter that she says shows the Republican gubernatorial candidate knew all along that the maid might be an illegal immigrant.

The letter from the Social Security Administration has emerged as a potentially explosive document in the California governor’s race between Whitman and Democrat Jerry Brown. Whitman has called for tougher sanctions against employers who hire illegal workers, and the fact that she had an illegal immigrant on her payroll for a number of years could undercut her credibility.

At issue is whether Whitman knew about the government letter in 2003, as attorney Gloria Allred and the former housekeeper have alleged. Whitman said she and her husband never saw the letter.

But Allred produced a copy of the letter Thursday that she says shows Whitman’s husband, Dr. Griffith Harsh, partially filled it out. If true, that would mean Whitman and her husband were aware of the immigration problem years ago.

“At bottom of letter, “Dr. Harsh has written: ‘Nicky, please check this. Thanks,’” Allred said, adding that the housekeeper recognized the handwriting as belonging to Whitman’s husband.

A message left with the Whitman campaign was not immediately returned. Harsh did not respond to questions from The Associated Press about whether he had seen the letter or whether the writing was his.

Whitman said earlier that she and her husband never got the letter, which noted a discrepancy in Diaz Santillan’s Social Security number. Whitman says they fired Diaz Santillan last year after she told them she was in the U.S. illegally.

She suggested that the housekeeper may have intercepted the letter, since she was in charge of the mail at the couple’s Silicon Valley home.

For a second straight day, Whitman forcefully denied the allegations and called them a “political smear on me, on my family, and based on lies.” She said her Democratic opponent, Jerry Brown, was behind the story and that the housekeeper was being manipulated for political gain.

When asked at a news conference whether the worker might have taken the letter intended for Whitman, she said “it’s very possible.” The housekeeper was in charge of going through the mail, she said.

“She might have been on the lookout for that letter,” Whitman said. “It would pain me to believe that that’s what she might have done but I have no other explanation.”

Whitman said repeatedly that she and her husband were shocked when Diaz Santillan, their housekeeper of nine years, came to them and confessed she was in the U.S. illegally in June 2009, nearly five months after Whitman had announced an exploratory run for California governor. She said she immediately suspended her and later fired her.

The immigration flap has served as a major headache for Whitman in her tight race against Brown. They are in a dead heat according to the latest polls, despite Whitman having spent nearly $120 million of her fortune so far.

One of the state’s largest public employee unions immediately released a Spanish-language attack ad accusing her of saying one thing in her Spanish-language ads and another when she speaks in English.

Whitman has called for tougher sanctions against employers who hire illegal workers, and the allegations could undercut her credibility just weeks before Election Day and damage her image, particularly with Hispanics she has pursued for months.

When asked why she didn’t turn the former employee into authorities, Whitman said “I was very fond of Nicky and I didn’t want to make an example of her.” She said her current housekeeper is “absolutely documented to work there.”

“It’s not an obligation of the employer to turn in illegal employees and I just thought ‘I’m not gonna make an example of Nicky,’” Whitman said.

The campaign released employment applications filled out when the former housekeeper was hired in 2000, including a copy of a Social Security card and a California driver’s license, that indicated the woman was a legal resident. Whitman’s campaign has said Diaz Santillan admitted to using her sister’s documents when she applied for the $23-an-hour job.

The timing of the allegations, the lack of documentation to support the claims and Allred’s Democratic ties left her open to questions about motive in the tight race. Allred once gave money to Brown, and she was a Hillary Rodham Clinton delegate at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

Allred said she hasn’t endorsed Brown, made any contribution or even seen Brown “for a substantial period of time.”

“This is an attempt by me to help Nicky have a voice and make known what she has suffered in Meg Whitman’s household.”

The allegations also come ahead of a scheduled Saturday Spanish-language debate that will include questions of importance to the Hispanic community.

Whitman has aggressively wooed Hispanic voters, who are typically Democratically aligned, and recent public opinion polls show she is having some success. Whitman has Spanish-language radio and TV ads and billboards — even Spanish-language posters at bus stops in Hispanic neighborhoods.

The letter at issue — dated April 22, 2003, according to Allred — noted a discrepancy between the Social Security number provided by the housekeeper and the name on file with the agency.

Such letters can be a tip-off about possible immigration problems, although the agency stopped sending them to employers in 2007.

The housekeeper said she was told to “check on this,” then never heard about the letter again. Allred said Whitman continued to receive letters about the mismatched Social Security number, which Diaz Santillan found in the trash.

According to the Social Security Administration’s website, such letters first go to the employee, and then are sent to an employer about two weeks later — making it plausible that Diaz Santillan could have been on the lookout for it.

Agency spokesman Mark Lassiter said that from 2003-2006 an employer had to have more than 10 employees whose Social Security numbers and names did not match to receive a warning letter. It was not immediately clear how many domestic employees Whitman had during that time.

“An employer with one or two employees in 2003 to 2006 would not have gotten an employer … letter,” Lassiter said.

In 2000, when Diaz Santillan was hired through an agency, Whitman said “we specified with the agent we wanted to make sure we had someone who was here legally to work in the United States.”

Whitman gave the name of the employment agency that connected her family with Diaz Santillan, Town & Country Resources in Menlo Park. Jens Hillen, co-president of the company, did not return multiple calls seeking comment from The Associated Press.

Whitman said Diaz Santillan was like a member of the family, frequently bringing her children to Whitman’s home, where they played in Whitman’s leafy backyard with the family dog.

Brown’s spokesman, Sterling Clifford, said in a statement that Whitman apparently thinks the rules don’t apply to her.

“After more than a year of Whitman demanding immigration policy that ‘holds employers accountable,’ we learn that accountability doesn’t extend to her own actions,” he said.

Clifford said the Browns use a well-known national housekeeping service that comes twice a month to their home in the Oakland Hills. He said Brown has never knowingly employed an illegal immigrant.

Allred is known for savvy — some say manipulative — media skills that get her clients in the public eye. Her decision to withhold “evidence” related to the Diaz Santillan case until Thursday guaranteed her case another day of headlines.

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