December 11th, 2008
11:30 AM ET
13 years ago

DHS: Cleaning company 'deceived' Chertoff

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Workers of a company that hired illegal immigrants cleaned the home of top U.S. immigration official Michael Chertoff, and the Department of Homeland Security has accused the company's owner of deceiving the department chief.

"Every contractor in the United States has the responsibility of ensuring their workers are legal," DHS spokesman Russ Knocke said in a prepared statement given to CNN on Thursday.

"As soon as the Chertoffs learned that Mr. Reid deceived them by employing some unauthorized workers, they fired him."

The situation came to light when the owner of the company, James Reid, approached The Washington Post, which published an article on Thursday.

Reid, who owns Consistent Cleaning Services in Maryland, denied that he deceived the DHS secretary and his wife, whom he had worked for since Chertoff was named to the position in early 2005. Now, he is facing more than $22,000 in fines from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, which is under DHS.

Reid told CNN's "American Morning" on Thursday that before he went to the Chertoffs' home, he provided the Secret Service with the employees' payroll information, their social security cards, work permits, passports or visas.

"Whatever information they provided me, I provided them," he said. The documents were checked again when Reid and the workers arrived at the Chertoffs' home.

"The same employees went into their house for year after year after year ... that they forced me to release," Reid said.

Every three months he would have to provide new documentation on the workers, he said. Reid said he determined four of his workers were undocumented, and fired them on his own. But he said that when ICE began its investigation earlier this year, it said six other employees were illegal immigrants and forced him to fire them.

He said those six workers, all women, had all the proper documentation and he personally escorted them into the Chertoffs' home after going through the security checks.

"I did not know they were undocumented," Reid said of the six women. "I figured I'd go to Homeland Security - I collected the information, I'd go to his house and after going to his house, I'd figure Secret Service just investigated them, so I'd figure they had to be legal."

"I had no questions about if they were legal."

Knocke, however, said while it is abundantly clear Reid employed unauthorized workers, it is unclear whether any of those illegal workers went into Chertoff's residence. Asked why the workers' unauthorized status did not come up during the routine Secret Service checks, Knocke noted that Reid's employee base and clientele was larger than just the Chertoffs.

DHS accused Reid of not doing his own background check on his workers, particularly through E-verify, a DHS-funded system that allows businesses to ensure that employees are legal.

"It is unfortunate that Mr. Reid did not acknowledge his own personal responsibility and check the eligibility of his work force," the statement from Knocke said.

But Reid maintains that he used a national payroll service to perform background checks, in addition to the Secret Service checks.

"I would think they would catch that after three years of taking ... what they say (were) illegal employees into their house, " Reid said. "They should have caught that a long time ago."

Knocke said Chertoff has been briefed on the situation, agreed the investigation should go forward, and recused himself from further involvement.

The DHS spokesman accused Reid of being a "disgruntled" former employee and an "opportunist" who has taken this opportunity to "vent his frustration."

Knocke said the Chertoffs were simply customers, and compared their employment of Reid's cleaning service to going to a restaurant and being told by the manager that a meal was properly served and the table was properly cleaned when it was not.

Reid told CNN the fine may force him out of business, and he has had trouble affording a lawyer. He said he sought help from his congresswoman, Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Maryland, and an immigrant advocacy organization in Maryland.
–CNN's Beth Rotatori contributed to this report


Filed under: Uncategorized
soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. Brian G, Sugar Land, TX

    So, Mr. Chertoff, you are discovering what the rest of us already knew...it is not so easy to discern which of those persons providing domestic servies for US citizens are themselves US citizens.

    Hope you learned your leason.

    December 11, 2008 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    Oh give me a break... An appointee of Bush lies as soon as he starts talking. That is the rule from the White House.

    December 11, 2008 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  3. keepitreal50

    Wow. If they can't detect illegal workers, what does that say for the performance and accuracy of the Homeland Security Team that Chertoff runs? Betha bottom dollar, they have let terrorist into this country on a large scale! And they know it.

    December 11, 2008 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  4. Fenarkleman

    Wow, there's got to be a lot of dust and spiderwebs in the cave that Michael "The Crypt Keeper" Chertoff calls home. Creepy.

    December 11, 2008 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  5. JuanM

    If we really want to stop illegal immigration in order to make legal immigration better we need to throw employers in jail as well as fine them. Of course the corrupt Neo-cons and bleeding heart Dems don't want to do either.

    December 11, 2008 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  6. Apples for sale

    He makes me feel so safe and fuzzy.

    December 11, 2008 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  7. AJ

    So lets get this straight, our Homeland Security Czar was fooled by a maid? Thats scary...

    December 11, 2008 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  8. BB

    A company should not be able to deceive – if Homeland Security was any good, this would have been caught in the beginning.

    Kick Chertoff out. He and his cronies are in there for a paycheck only.

    December 11, 2008 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  9. Simmy

    Both innocent until proven guilty?

    December 11, 2008 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  10. Peter (CA)

    This is why immigration reform is going to be so hard.
    It sounds as if this guy did what he could to ensure the help was legal, yet he is on the hook. Doesn't seem right.

    December 11, 2008 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  11. MikeH

    So the leader of homeland security had illegal aliens cleaning his home.

    One of these illegals could have been a spy or a hitman (woman)

    The incompetence of the Bush Administration is just astounding.

    December 11, 2008 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  12. Mobius

    Wow, these Washington Elites sure do hate to be caught, huh?

    December 11, 2008 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  13. sglman4Obama

    You mean a member of the Bush Administration was decieved? Incredible! Cannot believe it! This is an outrage...or it is it KARMA? hmmm...

    December 11, 2008 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  14. sharon

    E-Verify...is this the same programme the Reps have resisted even though it has been proven to be 90% effective? Didn't Bush just pull another fast one yesterday by tweeking a guest worker programe by removing the obligation to hire Americans first) just askin....

    December 11, 2008 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  15. Praetorian, Fort Myers

    Looks like those services who confirm the SSN's and validates worker eligibility have a little to be desired.

    Typical –Bush crony....rather than admit that the screenings may have missed something–ridicule and stain the reputation of the businessman to protect his own organization at the cost of the business owner's own credibility.

    Won't we all be glad when the President and nearly every one of his appointees are gone from government?

    December 11, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  16. katiec

    Another case of those with political power saying do not do as I do, do as I say.

    December 11, 2008 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  17. Bill Wildhage

    This just proves the "smoke and mirrors" operational mentality of DHS. DHS and the Secret Service let these people into one of the most important leaders in our governemnt where national security is concerned. they let it happen...no background checks and are now trying to turn it back on the employer. Gross incompetence all along the way. Thank heavens they will all soon be gone!

    Chertoff's incompetence goes all the way back to my former employer Arthur Andersen. He prosecuted the Firm ove Enron...put it out of business and 56K people were out of work. Then the Supreme Court reversd the ruling, Andersen shouldn't have been prosecuted, but the people and Andersen are still gone. Enron looks pretty puny compared to what this administration has allowed the banks to do during their tenure.

    December 11, 2008 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  18. Patricia Johnson

    I don't quite get the analogy about the restaurant/meal/table...wouldn;t it be more relevant to say "the meal was served and the tables properly cleaned by documented workers..."?

    December 11, 2008 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  19. John

    So what's next? –"It was ascertained that Chertoff ate a head of lettuce planted and harvested by illegal immigrants." "Chertoff was found to have stayed at a hotel chain who hired illegal immigrants as cleaning staff." Who gives a hoot! Practically every American, either directly or indirectly, has used and benefited from the services of illegal immigrants. Like it or not, they are here because we WANT them here for the cheap labor they provide, but we do not want to face our own immorality in paying them so low.

    December 11, 2008 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  20. Mesa Mick

    That's the typical ineptitude you would expect from a Bush appointee.

    "Nice job, Cherk-off" as Dubya would say....

    December 11, 2008 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  21. Nate

    If he knew they were illegal why would he let them clean the DHS secretary's house knowing he'd likely get caught. Either he's lying or sloppy or he really didn't know. There is a way to verify this.

    Furthermore, Chertoff didn't do anything illegal but politically it looks bad?? I don't think it reflects on him one bit. The only reason this guy is facing these steep penalties is politics. We've seen this before- when the government wants to make an example out of someone the facts no longer matter. Fact become subjective like the color of the sky. Prosecutors should be trying to determine the truth not guilt or innocence- that's for juries to decide.

    December 11, 2008 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  22. t mason

    he needs step down

    December 11, 2008 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  23. Gary

    DHS should be more worried about how 10 people got phony doc's who all worked for this guy Reid.
    Not to worry Michael, there are lots of good unemployed Americans out there who can clean your house. Look toward the ex CEO's of AIG or soon to be Ex's from the big 3. They would look great in their little maid uniforms.

    December 11, 2008 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  24. Kelly

    Everybody wants cheap labor so how will we ever fix this problem?

    December 11, 2008 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  25. Laura

    I'm a Democrat, but I am inclined to give Chertoff the benefit of the doubt here. It was sloppy on both his part and Reid's, but I doubt Chertoff knew the people were illegal.

    December 11, 2008 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
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