SALEM — The Homeland Security official accused of encouraging her cleaning woman, an illegal immigrant, to stay in the country insisted yesterday that she intended to fire her, but assumed that the woman had already quit after being "spooked."
"I planned on telling her she could no longer work for me," Lorraine Henderson, 52, of Salem, told the jurors in U.S. District Court during more than three hours of testimony.
"I felt so bad having to fire her," she added.
Henderson was the $140,000-a-year, Boston-area director of Customs and Border Protection when officials learned that she had employed a Brazilian woman in the country illegally to clean her $335,000 condo.
Henderson told the woman she'd look into ways she could stay in the country, then in a series of notes asked how the woman entered the United States, if she had relatives here or had been convicted of a crime. Fabiana Bittencourt never returned to work cleaning her Brittania Circle condo, Henderson testified under questioning by her lawyer, Francis DiMento.
But, a prosecutor pointed out during her cross-examination, Henderson never made any effort to find out why or to return Bittencourt's calls.
Nor did she pass along the bad news that a colleague who specializes in immigration had given her: "I have some bad news," Cindy Sutton told her. "You have to hire a new cleaning woman."
Henderson said she had tried to wait for Bittencourt to arrive at the condo one morning to break the news in person — nearly two months after Bittencourt disclosed her illegal status in a conversation that was secretly recorded by agents.
All the while, prosecutor Diane Freniere pointed out in her cross-examination of Henderson, she continued paying Bittencourt, in cash, to show up and clean her condo every two weeks.