LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Federal prosecutors have warned Wal-Mart Stores that the world’s largest retailer is the target of a grand jury probe into the hiring of illegal immigrants, the company disclosed Tuesday.
Wal-Mart said it was not surprised to receive a socalled target letter after an investigation of floor-cleaning companies contracted by Wal-Mart led to mass arrests late last month.
‘‘The company is the target,’’ company spokeswoman Mona Williams said. ‘‘No company employee has received an individual target letter at this time.’’
On Oct. 23, federal agents swept through 60 stores in 21 states, arresting about 250 allegedly illegal workers as they walked off the overnight shift. Most worked for companies contracted by Wal-Mart, although ten were Wal-Mart employees hired as the company moved to bring its floor cleaning operations in-house.
Wal-Mart said it screens employees to try to ensure they can legally work and that it requires contractors to use legal workers. At the time of the arrests, however, federal law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was evidence that Wal-Mart executives knew of the immigration violations.
The grand jury will hear details starting in mid-December, Williams said. She said Wal-Mart felt this gave the company time ‘‘to provide the U.S. Attorney’s Office information we feel supports our position.’’
Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Samuelson in Williamsport, Pa., where the case is being handled, would not discuss specifics. The raids last month included a visit by investigators to the company’s Bentonville headquarters, which they left with boxes of files from one executive’s office, the company said.
Since the probe was launched, Wal-Mart has pledged its cooperation and instructed store managers to preserve any relevant records. After the sweep, the workers were taken to local immigration offices. Some were released, but those with criminal records were detained, authorities said. The workers came from 18 nations.
Wal-Mart said it would check all of its domestic workers to ensure they were legally employed. Williams said Tuesday that the company is reconsidering such a sweeping effort, and is reviewing its process for checking the legal status of workers.
Arrests were made in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.