At a news conference late this morning, Nicky Diaz-Santillan and her attorney, Gloria Allred, alleged that Whitman knew and chose to ignore Diaz-Santillan’s undocumented status during her tenure at the Whitman household from 2000 to 2009.
“Was Whitman engaging in her own form of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ so she could continue to benefit from the work of an undocumented worker while pretending to not know the truth?” Allred said.
Allred said Diaz-Santillan was sent by an employment agency to interview at the Whitman household, and was “never asked if she was here illegally.”
Tom Hilpachk, legal counsel to the Whitman campaign, denied the claim, saying that “at the time she was hired, she filled out standard IRS forms and immigration forms, offered a Social Security card and driver’s license, and said she was a legal immigrant.”
However, Allred claimed Whitman was aware of Diaz-Santillan’s status the entire duration of her employment.
When the family was making trips out of the country and asked if Diaz-Santillan could come along, she said she couldn’t leave the country but didn’t say why, Allred said.
She also said Whitman’s husband, Dr. Griffith Harsh, received a letter from the Social Security Administration saying Diaz-Santillan’s Social Security number was invalid. Diaz-Santillan was asked to “look into this” but the Whitman family never followed up, Allred said.
In June 2009, Diaz-Santillan told Whitman and Harsh that she was undocumented and needed help to become a legal immigrant. Whitman had formed an exploratory committee to run for governor in February 2009.
Diaz-Santillan said Harsh yelled at her and she was sent home, and a few days later, she received a call from Whitman.
Tearfully recounting the conversation during today’s news conference, Diaz-Santillan said Whitman told her to cut off all contact with the family.
“I said ‘Meg please, can you help me,’ and she was very upset and said ‘No, and you don’t know me, and I have never seen you, and you’ve never seen me,'” Diaz-Santillan said.
“I was shocked and hurt that Ms. Whitman would treat me this way after nine years,” she said. “I realized at that moment that she didn’t appreciate my work, that she would throw me away like a piece of garbage. I don’t feel like I deserved to be treated this way.”
Rob Stutzman, a senior advisor to the Whitman campaign, said Whitman is “very sad” about the situation with Diaz-Santillan.
“This is someone who was very close to the family, and it pained her to have to dismiss her,” Stutzman said.
He also questioned the timing of the news conference, which occurred a day after the first debate between Whitman and the Democratic candidate, state Attorney General Jerry Brown.
“The timing is curious,” Stutzman said, calling it a “media spectacle” and “post-debate smoke bomb” that is drawing attention away from the problems California faces.
“It’s important that the campaign gets back to real issues, and that’s what Meg is going to do, instead of desperate political attacks,” he said.
Allred said Diaz-Santillan will be filing a claim alleging she was not paid for all the hours she worked at the Whitman household.
She was contracted to work 15 hours a week, but eventually was asked to perform additional duties, including driving Whitman’s children around, yet “was told that 15 hours a week was all she’d be paid for,” Allred said.
Allred, who is well-known for taking on high-profile or controversial cases, said Diaz-Santillan was referred to her by another attorney.
Stutzman said the news conference was politically motivated since Allred is a registered Democrat who has contributed to Democratic candidates, including Brown in 1982 and 2006.
Whitman released a statement after the news conference saying she is “deeply worried about Nicky and her family.”
Whitman said, “I believe Nicky is being manipulated by Gloria Allred for political and financial purposes during the last few weeks of a hotly contested election. This is a shameful example of the politics of personal destruction.”
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News