BOSTON — A top Homeland Security official in Boston was accused Friday of repeatedly hiring illegal immigrants to clean her home, even warning one not to leave the country "'cause once you leave, you will never be back."
Lorraine Henderson, the regional director of Homeland Security, Customs, and Border Protection, was arrested Friday at her home in Salem. She was charged with harboring an illegal alien and ordered released on $25,000 unsecured bond during an initial appearance in federal court. She was expected to appear in federal court in Boston later Friday on a charge of harboring an illegal alien.
If convicted, Henderson faces up to 10 years in prison. She declined to comment after her court appearance.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office said Henderson has been placed on paid administrative leave, pending a decision next week on whether she will be suspended without pay.
Ted Woo, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, said Henderson has worked for the agency formerly known as U.S. Customs Services for 33 years. She has been the Boston Area Port Director for five years, he said.
As part of her duties as port director, Henderson is responsible for stopping illegal immigrants from entering the country through all air and sea international ports in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. She also commands 190 armed and uniformed border protection officers.
"For any member of Customs and Border Protection to allegedly compromise their authority, and the security of our international ports of entry _ violating the same immigration laws that they are charged with upholding _ is unconscionable," U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said in a statement.
According to an eight-page affidavit, Henderson employed a Brazilian housekeeper who was an illegal immigrant for several years, paying her between $75 and $80 per visit, less than a legal cleaning service costs. She also allegedly hired two other illegal immigrants when the woman took time off to have a baby, even after a fellow agent warned her what she was doing was against the law.
The affidavit states that in 2004, Henderson recommended her housekeeper to a fellow officer, who learned the next year that the woman was in the country illegally after paying thousands of dollars to enter the U.S. over the Mexican border.
The officer told the housekeeper she couldn't work for her and confronted Henderson during a ride home in 2006, telling her it was illegal to continue to employ the woman. According to the affidavit, Henderson told the officer she was never home when the woman cleaned and communicated with her only by note or telephone _ not in person.
Two years later, the officer learned Henderson was still employing the housekeeper and reported Henderson to a supervisor, the affidavit states.
The housekeeper was then interviewed by a Customs agent and agreed to wear a wire and record calls to Henderson. During one meeting in September, the woman told Henderson she'd come to the U.S. without a visa and just stayed, according to the affidavit.
Henderson warned, "Wow, wow, if you leave they won't let you back ... you can't leave, don't leave ... 'cause once you leave you will never be back," according to the affidavit.
The woman cleaned Henderson's home three times after that meeting.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John McNeil would not comment after the court hearing on the immigration status of the three illegal immigrants who are witnesses against Henderson, or say whether they were in custody.
Associated Press writer Jay Lindsay contributed to this story.