Border Official Accused of Hiring Illegal Workers

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 later was ordered released on $25,000 unsecured bond during her initial appearance in federal court on a charge of harboring an illegal alien.

If convicted, Henderson faces up to 10 years in prison. She declined comment at her court appearance.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John McNeil said Henderson had been suspended from her job. A message left with Homeland Security was not immediately returned.

As part of her duties as Boston Area Port Director, Henderson was 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 a break 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.

McNeil would not comment on the immigration status of the three illegal immigrants who are witnesses against Henderson, or say whether they were in custody.