SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

March 23, 2010

Fed official convicted in immigration investigation

Homeland Security administrator encouraged cleaning woman to stay in US

SALEM — A former Homeland Security official was convicted yesterday of encouraging her cleaning woman, an illegal immigrant from Brazil, to remain in the country.

The U.S. District Court jury deliberated for more than five hours before returning a verdict of guilty against Lorraine Henderson, 52, of Salem shortly after 5 p.m.

Henderson, of 35 Brittania Circle, remains free pending sentencing, which is scheduled for June 17. She faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

"I can't understand it," said her lawyer, Francis DiMento. "I don't know what they (the jury) were thinking."

Henderson was the $140,000-a-year Boston-area director of Customs and Border Protection, a position she had held since 2003.

Part of her job responsibilities involved ensuring that people did not enter the country illegally through Logan Airport and other airports and seaports throughout southern New England.

But for most of that time, Henderson was employing the services of Fabiana Bitencourt, a woman who had paid $10,000 to be smuggled across the Mexico-California border, to clean her condo every two weeks.

Henderson testified last week that she did not know of Bitencourt's status, despite a warning from a colleague in 2006 that Bitencourt was in the country illegally.

Henderson said she dismissed co-worker Norah Ehrlich's warning with a "whatever," because she considered Ehrlich "unreliable."

When Ehrlich discovered more than two years later that Henderson was still using Bitencourt to clean her condo, she went to her boss. That touched off an investigation that led to Henderson's arrest in December 2008.

Bitencourt, who is now in the process of trying to attain legal residence here, testified that she wore a concealed wire to record conversations with Henderson, including telling Henderson that she was here illegally and asking her advice.

Henderson, on the tape, told Bitencourt not to leave.

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