Exclusive: Former Employee Says Gibbons Knew of Her Illegal Status

Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Jim Gibbons is facing more tough questions on a whole new issue. These questions revolve around an illegal immigrant whom Gibbons and his wife Dawn employed as their housekeeper and babysitter.

Click here to read the statement issued by Dawn Gibbons.

The woman, Patricia Pastor Sandoval, says she worked for the Gibbons' for years and the family occasionally made her hide in the basement to keep her illegal status a secret.

Click here to view the slideshow of photos with Patricia Sandoval and the Gibbons family.

It is illegal to knowingly employ an undocumented alien. It's also illegal to employ such a person, pay them under the table, and then fail to pay employer taxes.

Sandoval says she worked for Jim Gibbons and his wife Dawn for several years, starting in 1987, and that the family has tried to cover it up. It's a story pregnant with political implications.

Click here to read the employment agreement between Dawn Gibbons and Patricia Pastor. 

Patty Pastor Sandoval, former Gibbons employee, said, "No, I don't like hurting nobody because I'm Christian, but I read the newspaper about him, about immigration."

Pastor Sandoval says one reason she is talking about her previous relationship with Jim and Dawn Gibbons is because of the statements Gibbons has made during his campaign about getting tough with illegal immigrants. After all, she was an illegal herself.

Pastor Sandoval, who is Peruvian, says she entered the U.S. in 1984 by hiding in the trunk of a car as it crossed over from Tijuana. She got a job cleaning the sprawling house on the outskirts of Reno. When the Gibbons family bought the house in 1987, she stayed on.

In the beginning, she says no one asked about her legal status, but it became abundantly clear the Gibbons family knew she was not here legally since they often asked her to hide when certain people came to the house.

Sandoval said, "She told me somebody coming to the home, don't answer the door, don't say nothing because my husband is running. I think, at that time, for Assembly. One time she told me the newspaper or someone is coming, go downstairs and not come here until they left."

The issue of Patty's immigration status came to public attention once before, in 1995, when Pastor Sandoval wrote to the Gibbons family to request verification of her previous employment, which ended in 1993.

Dawn Gibbons told a newspaper she considered this an extortion attempt, so she filed a police complaint. Mrs. Gibbons told a reporter, quote, "She (Pastor Sandoval) said she wanted me to sign a letter saying she worked for me. I told her I can't lie."

Dawn Gibbons insisted Sandoval had never worked for the family. At the time, Sandoval was still undocumented and feared she would be deported. Eventually, Dawn Gibbons dropped her complaint.

Pastor Sandoval says she can prove she worked for the family. For one thing, she has photos with family members that span several years, some taken in the Gibbons home, some taken at special events like the baptism of Sandoval's daughter, some taken at Sandoval's home where Dawn Gibbons sometimes dropped off her son to be babysat.

In 1991, when Jim Gibbons returned from the Gulf War, he invited Patty and her husband to the state legislature. Their names were mentioned on the floor and are part of the official record. Patty says she spent most of that day walking the Gibbons baby around the hallways. With busy up-and-comers for parents, young Jimmy spent more time with Patty than anyone. He even came to call her mama, Sandoval says.

But there is more. Beginning in 1988, the Gibbons family tried to help Patty obtain legal status. These documents, never made public before, were signed by Dawn Gibbons under penalty of perjury. In the papers, it's made clear that everyone knew Sandoval was an undocumented worker. The documents indicate she had worked for the Gibbons family since 1987, cooking, cleaning, and babysitting.

The government files also contain an employment contract, signed by Dawn Gibbons, guaranteeing to pay Sandoval $800 a month. Patty says that's what she was paid from the beginning, always in cash.

Immigration attorney Vincenta Montoya is representing Sandoval. She said, "Eight hundred dollars a month at ten hours a day, fifty hours per week, that's about $4 an hour. Plus, social security was not paid. Disability was not paid. Workers comp was not paid. Taxes weren't paid. I think the Gibbons got a very good deal for very low money."

Montoya says, since 1986, federal law requires employers to verify the immigration status of employees, and that the documents leave no doubt the Gibbons family knew Patty was an illegal but kept her working anyway.

Vincenta Montoya continued, "I think it shows he's a hypocrite. The bill he voted for would subject him to felony provisions of the law because he is helping someone undocumented, or did in the past. He needs to explain why, at one point, he hired someone undocumented and now has a stance of criminalizing those people. Which is the true Jim Gibbons?"

A statement issued late Tuesday afternoon by Dawn Gibbons states that she never considered Sandoval to be an employee, that Sandoval performed occasional odd jobs only, and that Gibbons felt sorry for Sandoval.

Dawn Gibbons made a similar statement in 1995 to a Reno newspaper. Gibbons' statement adds the family did not know what Sandoval's legal status was until later. A Gibbons friend told the I-Team that Sandoval was compensated with food, clothing, and household items for the work she did, but not a formal salary.

But in 1988, Dawn Gibbons tried to help Sandoval obtain legal status so she could work. She filed papers with federal immigration officials. In those papers, it is stated that Sandoval was, in fact, an undocumented alien, that she had worked for the Gibbons family since 1987, that she put in a full 40 to 48 hours per week. An employment agreement said she was to be paid $800 a month. Dawn Gibbons signed those papers.

Vincenta Montoya, attorney for Sandoval, said, "You can't correct the fact that you hired someone illegally by getting them papers. During the years from 1987 until she was released, she was working illegally. There's no way to correct that. You can't go back and correct that and say now I'm legal."

But there is another dark angle to the story. In 1995, Dawn Gibbons filed a police complaint against Sandoval alleging that Sandoval was trying to extort money from her. Sandoval says she had an English-speaking neighbor write the letter to ask for Gibbons help in completing her immigration paperwork.

Gibbons says she received phone messages demanding money and threatening to take the story to the media and hurt Jim Gibbons' campaign. Someone placed an odd ad and photo in the newspaper, perhaps as a warning of what might come.

Eventually, the Gibbons family decided against moving forward with any charges, and none were filed. Years later, Sandoval wrote letters to the family asking for forgiveness for the bad things she had done. She denies ever asking for money.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Jim Gibbons campaign issued its own statement in anticipation of the Channel 8 I-Team story. The scathing letter blames this controversy on Democratic candidate Dina Titus and accuses her of trying to focus the campaign on matters other than the issues, and of maliciously attacking personal reputations.

The statement did not address whether the story told by Patricia Sandoval is true or not.

Send your comments to Investigative Reporter George Knapp at gknapp@klastv.com

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