Questions persist on whether Whitman knew about undocumented housekeeper

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Frank Stoltze/KPCC

Attorney Gloria Allred accuses Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman of allegations that she knowingly employed an illegal immigrant for nine years as a housekeeper. Whitman called the accusation part of a smear campaign orchestrated by backers of Democratic candidate Jerry Brown.

Questions persist about whether Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman knowingly hired an undocumented Mexican immigrant as her housekeeper. The attorney representing Whitman’s accuser produced paperwork she said proved the former eBay chief executive knew. Whitman denies it, and says the whole affair is a smear campaign orchestrated by her Democratic opponent Jerry Brown in a very tight race for governor.

At a hastily-called news conference in Santa Monica, Meg Whitman faced the press with her neurosurgeon husband. The room was packed with television cameras and reporters.

"So we are about to release a statement on this Gloria Allred, Jerry Brown issue.”

That’s how the Whitman campaign is branding allegations she knowingly hired an illegal immigrant. Jerry Brown is her Democratic opponent in the governor’s race. Attorney Gloria Allred represents Nicky Diaz Santillan, Whitman’s former housekeeper who is undocumented.

Across town, Allred – no stranger to the press – produced a new document to her own audience of television cameras. It was a letter to the Whitmans from the Social Security Administration that said the Social Security number Diaz was using did not match federal records.

“Meg Whitman and her husband deny receiving the letter, but please look at the bottom of the letter," said Allred. "On it, Dr. Harsh has written, quote, 'Nicky, please check this, thanks,' end quote. Nicky recognizes this as Dr. Harsh’s writing since he wrote her many notes.”

Once before and at the Santa Monica news conference, Whitman’s said that she and her husband never received that letter.

“Neither my husband nor I received any letter from the Social Security Administration," Whitman said Thursday.

Later in the day, her campaign said her husband might have gotten the letter. Whitman spokesman Rob Stutzman read a statement from the candidate’s husband.

“While I honestly do not recall receiving this letter, as it was sent to me seven years ago, I can say it is possible that I would have scratched a follow-up note on a letter like this, which is a request for information to make certain Nicky received her Social Security benefits and a W2 tax refund for withheld wages.”

Stutzman said that last part is important. The letter from the Social Security Administration specifically says the inquiry is not about the employee’s immigration status. He also noted that even if her husband saw the letter, Whitman did not.

Attorney Allred said everyone knows such a letter intends to signal employers about their workers’ immigration status. She accused the Whitmans of changing their story about the letter.

“Today, we have clearly proven with the release of this letter that Meg Whitman lied to the press and the public when she said, quote, 'We never received that letter and notification,' end quote.”

Allred said she’s merely representing Whitman’s former employee in a wage claims case. When asked how she got in contact with Diaz, Allred replied that another attorney referred her. She would not say which one.

Whitman, whose campaign may very well have known this issue would surface, pointed out that Allred is a Brown supporter, and maintained that her opponent was behind it all.

“Jerry Brown has been in politics too long to know any other way to do politics, and this is a baseless smear attack and he should be ashamed of himself.”

A spokesman for Jerry Brown, who has condemned Whitman’s hiring of an undocumented worker, said the Democrat’s campaign had nothing to do with the affair.

Among the many questions Whitman faced was one about why she didn’t help her former employee find an immigration attorney. Diaz, a mother of three, was a housekeeper who not only cleaned the house but took Whitman’s children to school.

Whitman fired her last year – when the Republican candidate said Diaz told her she lived illegally in this country.

“It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do," she said. "My family and I loved Nicky, but she had lied to us for nine years, and more than that, she had broken the law.”

At the same time, Whitman said, she was unwilling to turn Diaz over to immigration authorities because she did not want to “make an example of her.”

“We have now answered just about every question there is. We’ll probably take a couple more and then I have got to turn my attention back to this campaign of solving the very serious problems that Californians have.”

That’s Whitman’s hope – that this issue will not become the focus of her campaign for governor during its final month.

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