SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 18, 2012

Judge wants more information on illegal immigrant witness

By Julie Manganis
Staff writer

SALEM — More than two years after a federal jury found a former Homeland Security official from Salem guilty of encouraging her cleaning woman — an illegal immigrant from Brazil — to stay in the country, a judge now wants to know by the end of the week what kind of deal prosecutors may have struck with the maid in exchange for her testimony and other help.

Lorraine Henderson, 54, was the Boston-area director of Customs and Border Protection, an agency that, among its various responsibilities, is charged with preventing illegal immigrants from entering the country.

So when it was discovered that the cleaning woman Henderson hired to clean her Brittania Circle condo was in the United States illegally, the case made national headlines.

Fabiana Bitencourt, who was living in Peabody, wore a hidden recording device to capture conversations in which the two discussed her immigration status and later testified against Henderson at the trial. Federal prosecutors alleged that Henderson ignored a warning as early as 2006 that Bitencourt was here illegally, and that she continued paying Bitencourt for a month after learning there was no legal way for Bitencourt to stay in the United States.

Three months after her March 2010 conviction, U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock excoriated "overzealous" prosecutors for having "crushed" Henderson's life. Instead of sentencing Henderson, he heard arguments from her lawyer on motions to set aside the jury's verdict and acquit her, or alternatively grant her a new trial.

Woodlock didn't sentence Henderson that day in June 2010 and instead took defense lawyer Francis DiMento's motions under advisement — where they've remained for nearly two years.

Prosecutors have twice filed motions asking the judge to rule on the defense motions and proceed to sentencing in the case.

Yesterday, Woodlock issued an order that prosecutors file a report by the end of the week outlining any "promises, rewards or inducements offered to date to the cooperating witness, Fabiana Bitencourt." The judge also ordered that the report include Bitencourt's current immigration status and any current or planned actions to adjust her status.

Woodlock's order says he needs the information for "full consideration" of the defense motions.

Neither DiMento nor a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office returned calls yesterday seeking comment on the judge's order.

Henderson, who once earned $140,000 a year in her job, wound up working at PetSmart and taking in a roommate to make ends meet, her lawyer said at the time.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis may be reached at 978-338-2521 or jmanganis@salemnews.com.