Mystery Maid

Little is known about the woman who has upended the closely watched California governor’s race and put candidate Republican candidate Meg Whitman on the defensive.

Nicky Diaz Santillan, who worked for Whitman for nine years as a housekeeper, has not answered a single question from reporters over two days of news conferences. In a statement she read to the media, she alleged Whitman treated her brusquely and knew all along she was undocumented.

Diaz Santillan made a splash earlier this week after she revealed Whitman and her husband kept her employed even though they knew, based on a letter sent to their home, that she was in the country illegally. Diaz Santillan said when she went to Whitman for help to obtain her residency, Whitman abruptly fired her.

Whitman, who has denied knowing her housekeeper was undocumented, has said her actions were “not the Nicky I know.”

Virtually nothing is known about Diaz Santillan's activities or whereabouts from the time Whitman fired her in June 2009 until she appeared Wednesday with Allred at her Los Angeles law office.

In her 2000 employment application, Diaz Santillan revealed she went to high school and college in Mexico City and says she would like to go back to school to take computer administration. The mother of three said she has 11 brothers and sisters, eight of them living in the San Francisco Bay area. Whitman's campaign says Diaz Santillan used her sister's documents in her fraudulent application.

The timing of the allegations so close to the Spanish-speaking debate, the lack of extensive documentation, and Allred's Democratic ties left her open to questions about motive. Allred once gave money to Brown, and she was a Hillary Rodham Clinton delegate at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

Allred said Thursday she is not providing any financial support to her client and added her involvement with Diaz Santillan started "within the last week."

Whitman was repeatedly asked why she didn't just own up to this huge political liability earlier to avoid a late election-cycle surprise such as this, particularly since she has repeatedly stressed the need to hold employers accountable for hiring illegal workers.

She said she didn't want to subject Diaz Santillan to the scrutiny — and left unsaid, deportation — that could have resulted from her reporting it. Whitman also noted that in California, employers bear no responsibility to report illegal worker, only to not knowingly hire and employ them.

"Because Nicky had worked for us for 10 years, I was very fond of Nicky and I didn't want to make an example of her. It's not an obligation of the employer to turn in illegal employees," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.