, Salem, MA

Local News

July 3, 2013

Case against woman dropped

Salem: Former Homeland Security official had hired illegal immigrant as cleaner

Five years ago, Lorraine Henderson was on track for yet another promotion in a career that had taken her from the typing pool to regional ports director for Customs and Border Protection, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security.

Then, she learned that the woman she’d hired to clean her Salem condo for $75 every two weeks was in the United States illegally. And when she didn’t immediately fire the woman, federal officials pounced on Henderson, whose job involved preventing people from entering the country illegally.

While it’s not illegal to have someone perform occasional work at one’s home, regardless of his or her immigration status, prosecutors built their case around Henderson’s offer to her cleaning lady, Fabiana Bitencourt, to look into the process of her gaining legal residency, and the fact that she continued to pay her.

The irony-laden case made national headlines, and Henderson was even labeled “the worst person in the world” by a now-former cable news host.

She was tried and convicted of encouraging a person to remain in the country illegally, but after a two-year delay, she won a new trial. Prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office appealed that new trial but then sought repeated extensions of time to file paperwork.

Finally, late last week, prosecutors gave up, filing a motion to dismiss the case.

The motion, signed by U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, says that the government, having already expended substantial resources in the case, could not justify the substantial additional resources that would be required for another trial and likely appeal.

And though all he had to do was sign off on the motion, U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock went further, writing a nine-page memorandum recalling his own “considerable doubt” about whether the pursuit of Henderson on felony charges was ever warranted.

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