BOSTON — Wal-Mart expects a grand jury to begin sifting through evidence in the illegal immigrant cleaning crew case in mid-December, according to a company spokeswoman.

This story first appeared in the November 5, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Sticking to a tightly worded script, the spokeswoman acknowledged the Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney’s Office on Oct. 31 provided “formal notice that the federal grand jury is investigating whether Wal-Mart violated federal immigration laws in connection with third-party floor-cleaning contractors.”

The notification, called a target letter, is a formal Department of Justice protocol, according to legal experts. Although this letter only named the Wal-Mart corporation, it does not preclude specific individuals from being indicted down the road, said Steven Wisebram, a former federal prosecutor and partner with Atlanta-based Finch McCranie.

At least one office at the retailer’s Bentonville, Ark., headquarters was searched hours after the initial raid.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which issued the letter, declined to comment.

The move follows an early morning raid Oct. 23 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who rounded up about 250 illegal workers after they’d finished cleaning Wal-Mart stores in 21 states for the night.

The sting was reportedly dubbed “Operation Rollback,” an apparent poke at the retailer’s price-lowering “Smiley” that bounces around drilling down or slashing prices in its television ads. Most of the illegal workers were employed by subcontractors, but at least 10 were employed by the retailer directly, according to reports, but that could not be confirmed.

The day after the raid, Wal-Mart announced it would review the employment status of all its 1.3 million workers. The spokeswoman could not give details on whether that process had started or how far along it had come.

She emphasized the letter was not a surprise and did not name any specific executives.

Wisebram said it’s not unusual for companies to be named in such investigations. “Lots of times companies are indicted, not individuals,” he said. “Since a company can’t go to jail, it might result in a very large fine.”

Wal-Mart’s spokeswoman said the retailer is in “ongoing talks with the U.S. attorney” and is “confident there will be a full and complete discussion before any decisions are made.”

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