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How Meg Whitman Was Ambushed by Her Maid

3 years ago
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Since 1950, Americans with household help have been required to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes for workers earning more than $50 in a calendar quarter (plus unemployment insurance for workers earning $1,000). For many years, compliance was difficult and time consuming and, for the IRS, enforcement was a low priority. In 1986, new immigration laws made it illegal to hire undocumented immigrants, even in private homes. Both laws were widely disregarded.

Public awareness of and compliance with these legal requirements increased dramatically in 1993 when yet to be inaugurated President Clinton nominated a woman named Zoe Baird to be attorney general (she would have been the first woman to ever hold the office). Like many working women, the nominee had a foreign-born babysitter. Her nanny's husband drove her children to school, sports and other activities. Unfortunately, Baird paid the couple off the books and ignored their undocumented immigration status.
So obscure was the tax regulation and so common the hiring violation that neither the Clinton transition team nor the Senate Judiciary Committee that would confirm her (and where I was a staff member at the time) had asked in the vetting process whether the nominee had complied with either requirement. The result was the first political defeat of Clinton's day-old administration and a blow for working mothers and their children's caregivers all over America.
After that, the Social Security Domestic Employment Reform Act of 1994 (nicknamed the Nanny Tax) codified rules on reporting wages and taxes for domestic workers, and law-abiding citizens throughout America learned to report and pay FICA, Medicare, FUTA and federal withholding taxes for their babysitters, gardeners and cleaning help.
While candidates and appointees (and presumably average citizens) continued to get caught violating immigration and tax laws, most people with political aspirations learned to toe the line. It was in this environment six years later that Nicandra Diaz Santillan, also in the United States without documentation, provided her prospective employers, GOP candidate for California Governor Meg Whitman (then CEO of eBay), and her neurosurgeon husband, Griffith Harsh, with a Social Security number not actually assigned to her. Miss Diaz, who had come into California from Mexico, assured the couple she was legally available to work. (They were introduced though an agency that had also asked for and received documents she would need to complete the I-9 form.)
The new employers withheld taxes from Diaz' salary ($17,940 in 2002) and provided an annual W2 form to their employee. When the name Nicandra Santillan and the number she provided did not agree with agency records, the Social Security Administration wrote Whitman and Harsh in 2003 asking for more information. The couple gave their housekeeper the letter and asked her to clarify and resolve the matter ("Nicky, please check this. Thanks').

Apparently, after that handoff, she kept the letter and it fell off their radar and was forgotten. The matter faded away until, as Whitman stated last month, "Nicky came to us in June 2009 and confessed that she was an illegal worker."
She asked her employers for "help" legalizing her status several months after Whitman began exploring her interest in the top state job. Meg Whitman and her husband by all indications behaved legally but were nevertheless misled. As most people would, they trusted the person who they paid to clean their toilet.
When the housekeeper confessed she'd been lying, Whitman "immediately terminated Nicky's employment." Saying "it was one of the hardest things I've ever done," Whitman added she "considered Nicky a friend and a part of our extended family."
For her part, Nicky claimed in a tearful press conference that Dr. Harsh was, er, harsh when she broke the news ("Dr. Harsh was very angry and said, 'I told you, I told you she was going to bring us problem") and now claims her former bosses still owe her overtime wages and mileage reimbursement.
In their 2nd public debate Saturday, Whitman accused her opponent for the governor's office, California attorney general Jerry Brown, of orchestrating the scandal. Momentum for the accusations and suspiciously timed revelations seem to be the spotlight-seeking work of Diaz' lawyer, Gloria Allred. (Allred is known for inserting herself into high-profile disputes.) Whatever her motivation for the explosive betrayal, Diaz' own actions now put her at risk for arrest and deportation.
There are 3 million undocumented workers in California. Most of them toil in labor-intensive professions with few opportunities for advancement. Rarer still, are opportunities to turn so spectacularly on your employers the way Diaz found to do (or Allred found for her).

Perhaps she misunderstood the promise of America for so many immigrants and believed she had come to the land of opportunism?

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321 Comments

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Cool Dude

"The couple gave their housekeeper the letter and asked her to clarify and resolve the matter ("Nicky, please check this. Thanks'). Apparently, after that handoff, she kept the letter and it fell off their radar and was forgotten." The writer seems to be trying to justify Meg Whitman's behavior. Meg Whitman "ambushed" by her maid? Sorry, I am not buying it. Whitman should have known better than to just casually handed off the letter with a "Please check this. Thanks." If that's the kind of regard she has for the laws of the land, I shudder to think what she is going to do in Sacramento.

October 17 2010 at 9:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tristan

And this is the reason why I do not support ANY political person for ANY office because they are ALL liars and only look out for themselves. As for Jerry Brown, who cares? Jerry needs to retire and go somewhere far, far away. As for Meg Whitman, who cares? She shoved it under the rug and hoped it wouldn't be seen by prying eyes, but it did. She screwed up, got caught and is now trying to save her political career by attacking Jerry Brown. Whether it was him or not that brought it into the light doesn't matter, what matters is that it is out for everyone to see. She knew better once she got that letter in 2003 and it came back to someone else. She gave it to the maid and asked her to take care of it, which the maid did the smart thing and "took care of it". It just came back and bit Meg in the "you know where". No pity for her. If you honestly care and support them, then it boils down to just one comment: You make your bed, now go lie in it.

October 16 2010 at 6:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
allen

Hopefully ICE can resolve this issue.

October 05 2010 at 6:21 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
cclawnj

Where is all the outrage against negative campaigning when Democrats do it? This attack against Meg Whitman is not only negative but personal, below the belt, false and contrived. Jerry Brown knows that if he stuck to the issues and/or campaigned on his record he wouldn't have a chance, even in California the granola state (fruits, flakes and nuts).

October 05 2010 at 1:30 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
ellingt5

This issue does NOT advance the cause for illegal immigrants or "all the Nickys" out there or the political ambitions of Jerry Brown. What exactly is an employer to do? Why isn't the employment agency being investigated? Were they complicit in this fraud by Nicky? Whitman used all the tools at her disposal to hire an employee at $23/hr. She was sent a letter by SSA which specifically stated that Whitman could NOT use the letter as a reason for firing the employee. The issue was whether the TAXES being withheld were being applied to Nicky's account since the SS number was at issue. The issue was Nicky's not Whitman's. She had been assured by the employment agency that the maid was legal. This entire situation stinks of political ploys that Americans are sick and tired of. Allred should be investigated by the California State Bar for failing to protect her "client. Nicky should be immediately arrested by the Feds for fraud and Jerry Brown should be sent into retirement. Politics as usual will no longer be tolerated!

October 05 2010 at 11:34 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
allisonisa39e

To bad about Nicky, but she has obviously knowingly been working here illegally. Holding onto this letter for six years suggests that she may have stolen other items from her employer.This was a letter to them and they expected an answer from her. Gloria could be charged with conspiracy. This is a sorry attempt by Jerry Brown to denigrate Meg Whitman

October 05 2010 at 2:04 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
bkirkl2608

What a crock. They received the letter in 2003 and, conveniently, never followed up? To accuse the woman of betrayal is absurb. The knew what they were doing and that there was a risk that Diaz Santillan was undocumented. She exploited this woman by paying here nearly nothing, $17,940, after 10 years employment. The tone of this column is offensive. Why, those dirty little Mexicans! How dare they, huh?

October 05 2010 at 12:39 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bkirkl2608's comment
cclawnj

She was part time, genius. $23 an hour for unskilled work is not "nearly nothing."

October 05 2010 at 1:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
tausands

Let me get this straight, a letter was sent from Social Security telling Whitman and Harsh that the number was not their maid's and they brush it off by telling HER to look into it? I don't buy that. If I received a letter saying one of my employees had offered false information, I would definitely look into it myself. To me it seems they knew all along and didn't care, up until it looked like it might mess with their political aspirations. The "ambush" if there ever was one occurred in 2003. After that, Whitman made her own bed...now, she can lie in it, or just lie if that proves more useful in her political bid.

October 04 2010 at 9:54 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
prosepo

The new employers withheld taxes from Diaz' salary ($17,940 in 2002) and provided an annual W2 form to their employee. $17,940 is a very low wage to give someone who works for a Billionaire. Legal or illegal. Those are poverty wages. A one bedroom apartment in california goes for at least 800 to 1000 a month. I wonder if Meg ever provided health insurance. I am a Meg Whitman supporter but I now question her Integrity. These actions are no different than CEO'S who rake in millions in bonuses but allow their workers to pay be paid very low wages. Some of my wealthy friends are very generous in what they pay out and they treat their Household help great, while others are so tight and treat them like second class citizens. If you can spend millions on a campaign at least pay your help more and make sure they are legal.

October 04 2010 at 2:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
5 replies to prosepo's comment
chrissf4529

Alred is a huge supporter of jerry brown. This 'affair" is intended to do one thing only. Derail whitman for govenor. It appears Ms. Whitman did everything possible to work with the law. Went through an employment agency to begin with. And, when she saw no further letters regarding the incident, after instructing the maid to straighten it out. She thought matter was fixed. Brown and his supporters need to deal with REAL problems, not this contrived attack. Problem with ALL politicians in both Parties. Its never about real solutions. Its about personal attacks. and smut campaigns.

October 04 2010 at 12:44 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to chrissf4529's comment
tausands

Would you tell the mugger taking your wallet to report himself to the police? Get a clue. Whitman was responsible by law as an employer to make certain that the letter was sent in error.

October 04 2010 at 9:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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