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Whitman's husband says it's 'possible' he saw Social Security letter

By Alan Duke, CNN
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Whitman: Allegations based on lies
  • Whitman previously insisted the couple never saw the letter
  • Lawyer shows a 2003 letter she calls the "smoking document"
  • The federal letter questioned their housekeeper's Social Security number
  • The California GOP nominee for governor calls it a "political smear"

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- The husband of Meg Whitman, California's Republican nominee for governor, said "it was possible" he saw a 2003 letter that questioned his housekeeper's Social Security number, but he insisted it did not make him suspect she was an undocumented worker.

Dr. Griffith Harsh's acknowledgment came several hours after he stood next to Whitman as she told reporters neither of them saw the letter.

The reversal followed lawyer Gloria Allred's release of a letter with a note to the housekeeper, which she said was Harsh's handwriting.

Allred called it "the smoking gun or smoking document" that showed the couple knew their housekeeper for nine years, Nicky Diaz Santillan, was working illegally in the United States.

"While I honestly do not recall receiving this letter, as it was sent to me seven years ago, I can say it is possible that I would've scratched a follow-up note on a letter like this," Harsh said in a statement released late Thursday.

"Nicky Please check this Thanks," is scribbled at the bottom of the letter addressed to Whitman and her husband.

Video: Meg Whitman: This is a smear attack

Santillan kept the letter after Harsh gave it to her and the information requested by the Social Security Administration was not provided, Allred said.

"Since we believed her to be legal, I would have had no reason to suspect that she would not have filled it in and done what was needed to secure her benefits," Harsh said.

The immigration issue looms large in California, as in other states along the Mexican border.

Whitman has come out against Arizona's controversial new anti-illegal immigration law, as well as California's controversial Proposition 187. However, she supports tough crackdowns on employers who hire illegal immigrants, requiring employers "pay a fine and have their business license suspended for 10 days" for first-time offenses, with steeper fines and penalties for repeat offenders.

Whitman is currently neck-and-neck in the polls with Attorney General Jerry Brown, the Democratic nominee.

Whitman told reporters she would be willing to take a polygraph test -- "If it comes to that" -- to prove that she was "really stunned" to learn just last year that Santillan was an undocumented worker.

The allegations became public Wednesday when Allred held a news conference with Santillan to say the former housekeeper was "exploited, disrespected, humiliated and emotionally and financially abused" by the former eBay CEO.

"Make no mistake, these allegations are completely untrue they lack any merit whatsoever," Whitman said Thursday.

Whitman called the charges a "political smear" orchestrated by Brown.

Allred said Thursday she has had no contact with the Brown campaign.

The Whitman campaign gave reporters copies of immigration and IRS forms it said Santillan signed stating she was a legal resident of the United States when she first applied for employment as a housekeeper in 2000.

Allred claimed that back in August 2000, Santillan "was sent by an employment agency to interview with Meg Whitman for a job as a housekeeper. ... Nicky alleges that Ms. Whitman never asked if (she) was here legally," Allred said.

"The inconvenient truth of the hypocrisy of Meg Whitman as illustrated by her employment of an undocumented worker and her exploitation of her was going to be revealed, because Nicky wanted to be legalized," Allred said.

"Nicky was terminated in a sudden, cruel and heartless way," she added.

Allred said Santillan intends to file a claim for unfairly denied wages.

Whitman said she paid her housekeeper $23 an hour to work 15 hours a week. Sometimes, she said, Santillan worked fewer hours but was paid for more.

While Whitman said Santillan was like a member of her family, the housekeeper described a cold Whitman firing her for political reasons.

"When I met with Meg Whitman on June 20, 2009, I asked her for assistance," Santillan said. "I explained to her why I came to the United States. I explained that I was married and our economic situation in Mexico was very bad. We had no job, no food, no place to live and for that reason we made the decision to come here."

"Ms. Whitman just laughed," Santillan said. Whitman, Santillan claimed, also blamed herself for failing to previously ask for any documentation.

Whitman, according to Santillan, indicated four days later that she couldn't help the former housekeeper.

"She said, 'I cannot help you and do not say anything to my children. I will tell them you already have a new job and that you want to go to school and from now on, you don't know me and I do not know you. You have never seen me and I have never seen you. Do you understand me?'"

Allred also outlined what she said were abusive labor practices by Whitman, including not reimbursing the maid for mileage when she ran errands and not allowing her maternity leave.

"When Nicky indicated to Ms. Whitman in March 2005, that she needed to take a medical leave of absence for pregnancy, she alleges that she was told that unless she herself obtained someone to replace her, that her job might not be there for her when she returned."

Whitman denied the allegation, saying Santillan proposed the idea of having a friend fill in for her while she gave birth.

While Santillan used her personal car to "run a few errands," she never asked for mileage reimbursement, Whitman said.

Whitman has previously beat back allegations she was involved in a 2007 shoving altercation with an employee at eBay's California headquarters after the Silicon Valley chief felt unprepared for an upcoming media interview. The incident reportedly led to a $200,000 settlement.