Pryor Decries Scandal as ''11th-Hour Smear'' - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Arkansas US Senate Race

Pryor Decries Scandal as ''11th-Hour Smear''

Posted at: 11:45 p.m. CDT, November 3, 2002
Updated at: 5:00 p.m. CDT, November 4, 2002

JONESBORO, Ark. -- Attorney General Mark Pryor blasted the state Republican Party, claiming they engaged in dirty politics with the release of information that Pryor had hired a Mexican immigrant to perform housekeeping duties.

The controversy began with a report on the Drudge Report Web site of Internet gossip columnist Matt Drudge. The item said Pryor's campaign ``has been hit with claims he employed an illegal immigrant,'' attributing the information to unnamed sources. The report said the woman ``claims she worked for Pryor as a housekeeper for a year and was paid $7 an hour.''

Pryor is challenging Republican incumbent Tim Hutchinson in a race being closely watched across the country because it could help determine which party will control the Senate.

"This is nothing but an 11th-hour smear campaign engineered by the Republican Party," Pryor said in Jonesboro on Monday afternoon.

The Pryor campaign confirmed that Hortencia Osorio, who lives in a mobile home in southwest Little Rock, had been employed by the Attorney General, but denied that she was in the United States illegally.

``When Hortencia came to us she provided documentation stating she was in the United States legally. She did light housework for us, as needed, for a few hours a week and only for a few months. We have never employed an illegal immigrant,'' the statement said.

Pryor's campaign released an additional statement to supporters in which he declared, "The fact is that two years ago, I hired a legal resident of the United States to work as a housekeeper. I was provided with proof of her legal status at the time I hired her."

The statement continued, "I am very disappointed at how low some people are willing to sink in order to win an election. This kind of attack is beneath the dignity of the people of this state and confirms to voters statewide that Tim Hutchinson will not uphold their trust in such an important office as US Senator."

Early Monday, Pryor's campaign released a notarized affidavit that bore the signature ''Hortencia Osorio.'' She had signed beneath two paragraphs in Spanish, and an English version was provided by the Pryor campaign. It said that when she worked for
Pryor she was a legal resident of the United States and provided documentation to the Pryor family that proved her legal status.

In addition to the declaration, Osorio further attested to receiving a phone call from a phone number in DeQueen. Osorio, age 40 from Puebla, Mexico, wrote the statement in Spanish, said that a woman called her and asked her questions about her employment with Pryor. At the end of the conversation, Osorio says that the woman asked for her address so that an "agradecimiento" could be sent. That word can be interpreted as either a thank you, or possibly a gratuity.

When questioned Sunday by The Washington Times, the Pryor campaign would not answer as to whether Pryor paid either Social Security, or income taxes on Osorio's wages. However, while at a campaign stop in Jonesboro, Pryor acknowledged employing Osorio, but said that she did not make enough money to require Pryor to pay withholdings.

"(Osorio) did not accumulate enough money from us to require us to withhold anything," Pryor said.

According to Pryor campaign spokesman Rodell Mollineau, Osorio was employed by Pryor for "about six months, and she worked an average of five hours per week." Mollineau confirmed the pay rate of $7 per hour. Based on calculations, Osorio may have earned upwards of $910 from the Pryor's for housekeeping services. According to the Internal Revenue Service 2001 tax guidelines, a minimum of $1300 paid to a household employee is required before the employer is required to withhold employment taxes. In 2000, the threshold is $1,200.

Mollineau acknowledged that Osorio was employed by the Pryor's "toward the end of 2000, and into 2001." He also said that Pryor "was fully aware of the tax laws" during her employment.

The Arkansas Republican Party's Victory 2002 Committee an advertisement titled "Evade" that is scheduled to begin airing that reads:

"He's the top law enforcement officer in Arkansas. It's his job to uphold the law.
But now, Attorney General Mark Pryor is avoiding questions... Questions that he allegedly paid an employee in cash, to evade the law requiring that he pay social security and income taxes. Questions that Pryor avoided taxes... the rest of us have to pay. If Mark Pryor doesn't obey the law in his own home, how can he enforce the law as Attorney General?"

The Washington D.C.-based Perkins Coie Law Firm sent a letter to KAIT requesting that it be removed immediately. Cassandra Lentchner, counsel to the Pryor campaign says that the "advertisement contains false and slanderous statements about" Pryor, and claims that the "Republican Party is attempting to put out false and derogatory information."

In Jonesboro on Monday, Hutchinson would not offer any direct comment on the employment issue other than saying that, "(Pryor) can dispel this in a hurry, if he will just provide the documentation that in fact he paid the taxes that the law requires him to do when he has an employee. He should do that before the polls open tomorrow morning."

Despite requests from KAIT, the Pryor campaign has not released any documentation of any kind regarding the employment of Osorio.

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