A day after she said she unknowingly employed an illegal immigrant for nine years, Republican candidate for California governor Meg Whitman called the controversy a "smear campaign" by her opponent.
"I actually think it could backfire on the (Jerry) Brown campaign and help me with the Latino community," Whitman said at a Thursday news conference in Santa Monica. "Make no mistake, these allegations are completely untrue. They lack any merit whatsoever. This is truly a political smear on me, on my family and based on lies, and it is designed to divert attention from the issues that really matter to California voters."
Whitman's former housekeeper Nicky Diaz Santillan was joined Wednesday by attorney Gloria Allred, a longtime Democratic supporter, at a news conference in Los Angeles. Allred claims that Diaz was not paid for all of the hours she worked, and said she would be filing a claim against Whitman.
Allred said that during Santillan's years of employment, Whitman caused her "to feel exploited, disrespected, humiliated and emotionally and financially abused."
"The relationship was terminated last year by Ms. Whitman for what appeared to be political reasons involving Ms. Whitman's decision to run for governor," Allred said.
Whitman, who said she paid Santillan $23 per hour, took questions at the Thursday morning news conference. She said her family did everything possible to to hire a documented employee.
"We were stunned when Nicky told us she was illegal," Whitman said Thursday. "My husband and I did everything we could to hire someone who was documented to work here. When I found out this woman was not here legally, we let her go. It's a tough thing to do when you hve a personal relationship, but it's the right thing to do.
"I think (Santillan) has been manipulated by a very sophisticated attorney, and I absolutely believe this is linked to the Brown campaign."
Allred contended that Whitman knew her client was an illegal immigrant, but kept her employed until she decided to run for governor. Allred claims Whitman received a letter from the Social Security Administration on April 22, 2003, saying the Social Security number provided by the housekeeper did not match the name on file.
About one hour after Whitman's Thursday news conference, Allred conducted another news conference -- this one included a pair of oversized documents. One of the documents was the 2003 letter from the Social Security Administration to Whitman's husband.
Whitman said she had never seen the letter.
According to the LA Times:
Whitman said she had never seen the letter, and suggested that the housekeeper could have intercepted it after receiving notice from the Social Security Administration that there was a problem.
“She may have intercepted the letter, it’s very possible, I have no other explanation,” Whitman said, standing alongside her husband, Dr. Griff Harsh. “Nicky did bring in the mail and sort the mail. If she got a letter two weeks before alerting her to a problem and saying we’re going to alert your employer.... It pains me to say that because, gosh, that’s not the Nicky I knew.”
According to Whitman's camp, Santillan was terminated in 2009 as soon as the maid's immigration status was revealed.
"Nicky Diaz was my housekeeper from 2000 to 2009. We consider Nicky a friend of our family and were saddened this morning to hear about her legal action," Whitman said in a statement released Wednesday.
"After 9 years of faithful service, Nicky came to us in June 2009 and confessed that she was an illegal worker.
"As required by law, once we learned she was an illegal worker, I immediately terminated Nicky's employment. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I considered Nicky a friend and a part of our extended family."
The Whitman campaign released this questionnaire that Santillan apparently filled out in 2000. The document suggests Diaz said she was able to legally accept employment.
Less than 24 hours before Allred's news conference, Whitman discussed "our illegal immigration problem."
"We do have to hold employers accountable for hiring only documented workers, and we do have to enforce that law," she said during Tuesday night's gubernatorial debate against Jerry Brown.
Whitman spokeswoman Andrea Jones Rivera said Allred's news conference was politically motivated. She called Allred "a shameful manipulator" who is a supporter of Jerry Brown -- Whitman's Democratic opponent in the hotly contested governor's race.
"With the polls tied, it comes as no surprise that the morning after a successful debate for Meg that the sleaze machine of the political left is now focused on the politics of personal destruction."