, Salem, MA

Local News

March 12, 2010

Trial to start for official accused of hiring illegal

Salem woman headed up a Homeland Security division

SALEM — A former top Homeland Security official charged with hiring an illegal immigrant from Brazil to clean her Salem condo for nearly five years — and allegedly encouraging her to stay in the country — goes on trial Monday in Boston.

Lorraine Henderson, 52, was the Boston area port director for the Department of Homeland Security, responsible for border security and ensuring people did not enter the country illegally through Logan Airport and other points of entry in New England, until her arrest in 2008.

But during that time, she was paying a Brazilian national named Fabiana Bittencourt to clean her two-bedroom, $330,000 condo on Brittania Circle, an upscale development off Highland Avenue, prosecutors allege.

The trial will get under way with jury selection in U.S. District Court before Judge Douglas Woodlock and is expected to take six to eight days.

Henderson's defense insists that as soon as she learned that Bittencourt was in the United States illegally, she tried to find a way to gain her legal residency, but when that failed, she no longer encouraged her to stay.

"Briefly stated, it is the defendant's position that, once she was convinced that the alien's presence in the United States was unlawful and that there was no procedure available to legitimize her presence, the defendant determined to discontinue, and did in fact discontinue, Ms. Bittencourt's housecleaning services," defense lawyer Francis DiMento stated in a trial brief.

Prosecutors point to recorded conversations between Henderson and Bittencourt, who wore a body wire to capture their discussions, and written notes exchanged between the two, in which Henderson advises Bittencourt not to leave the country because she would not be allowed to return.

Prosecutors also allege that Henderson had known for more than two years that Bittencourt was in the country illegally, after a fellow Homeland Security employee, Nora Ehrlich, who had also hired Bittencourt, discovered her status and fired her.

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