- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is the target of a federal grand jury investigation into accusations it violated U.S. immigration law by using floor-cleaning contractors that employed illegal aliens.

Company spokeswoman Mona Williams confirmed yesterday that the store received a “target letter” from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, less than two weeks after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested more than 300 illegal aliens working at Wal-Mart stores in 21 states.

“Wal-Mart was not surprised by this formal notification since it is in keeping with comments made by federal officials after the raids,” said Mrs. Williams. She said no company official had received “an individual target letter at this time.”

Grand jury hearings in the case are expected to begin in December, authorities said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Samuelson in Williamsport, Pa., where the case is being handled, declined yesterday to discuss the case, saying only it is “an ongoing investigation.”

A heavy majority of illegal aliens arrested in the Oct. 23 nationwide sweep of 61 Wal-Mart stores in 21 states, including Maryland and Virginia, were members of cleaning crews Wal-Mart hired through contractors, though 10 were Wal-Mart employees hired as the company moved to bring its floor-cleaning in-house.

ICE agents also searched the office of one of the firm’s executives at its Bentonville, Ark., headquarters. Several boxes of documents were confiscated.

“We do not know if the grand jury hearings will result in any indictments; however, we are in ongoing talks with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and are confident we will have the opportunity for full and complete discussion before any decisions are made,” Mrs. Williams said.

Law enforcement authorities, however, believe some Wal-Mart store managers were aware of the immigration status of the contract workers but did nothing about it. Grand-jury subpoenas have been issued for several unnamed Wal-Mart executives to testify, and additional charges could be filed.

Wal-Mart employs 1.1 million people in the United States and last year had sales totaling $244.5 billion.

The October arrests followed investigations in 1998 and 2001 in which Wal-Mart cleaning-crew contractors were shown to have hired illegal aliens. Authorities said recorded conversations of unidentified Wal-Mart executives, managers and contractors showed that immigration violations “continued to occur with direct knowledge by the Wal-Mart corporation.”

The illegal aliens arrested during the raids face deportation. ICE officials said the arrests were part of a “work-site enforcement” effort spearheaded by ICE, noting that a company that knowingly hires illegal workers may be fined up to $10,000 per person.

“Employers who exploit persons in the United States for profit should be wary of our continuing enforcement efforts and should, by now, be aware that there is a penalty to pay,” said ICE spokesman Garrison Courtney.

The arrests included raids at Wal-Mart stores in Mount Airy and Catonsville in Maryland, and Lynchburg, Winchester, Culpeper, Madison Heights, Sterling, Harrisonburg, Lexington and Richmond in Virginia.

ICE agents also targeted stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

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