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March 16, 2010

Prosecutor: Woman 'violated laws she was sworn to uphold'

SALEM — Her very job, as Boston area director of the Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection division, involved supervising hundreds of agents who spent their days trying to prevent people from entering the country illegally.

But "Lorraine Henderson violated the same immigration laws that she had taken an oath to uphold," when she continued to hire an illegal immigrant to clean her Salem condo for nearly five years, encouraging her to stay even after learning her status, federal prosecutor Diane Freniere told jurors yesterday during an opening statement in Henderson's trial.

Or did she?

Henderson's lawyer, Francis DiMento, argued to a judge that what his client did was not illegal and that she only intended for Fabiana Bittencourt to stay in the United States for the time it took Henderson to investigate ways to keep her here legally.

DiMento also argued that having Bittencourt clean her Brittania Circle condo every two weeks amounted to "sporadic, irregular or intermittent" casual employment, which, he contends, is not illegal.

"That's what we have, a nothing every two weeks and they all add up to about 30 nothings," DiMento argued to Judge Douglas Woodlock during a motion yesterday. DiMento may give an opening statement to jurors this morning.

A jury of 12 women and three men in U.S. District Court will then begin hearing the evidence that will lead them to their decision: Did Henderson, 52, violate the law she was responsible for enforcing by encouraging Bittencourt to stay?

Freniere argued that she did, telling jurors how, despite a warning more than two years earlier from a colleague and despite numerous trainings — some of them led by Henderson herself — Henderson continued to arrange for Bittencourt to clean her condo, communicating with her via notes and leaving cash for her on the counter.

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