updated 10/1/2008 2:43:49 PM ET 2008-10-01T18:43:49

The owner of a plumbing supply store has apologized for asking customers who weren't speaking English for their Social Security numbers to prove they were legal residents.

Jose Genao complained to civil rights agencies earlier this year, alleging David Richardson asked to see his Social Security card after hearing Genoa and a friend speak Spanish inside his store in March.

The two had been trying to buy $18 worth of plumbing supplies.

Genoa said that during the encounter, Richardson told the men the majority of people who do not speak English in Rhode Island are illegal immigrants.

Genoa said he and his friend are U.S. citizens.

In the apology made public Tuesday, Richardson said he was trying to start a discussion about illegal immigration in Rhode Island. He agreed to donate $500 to charity.

"I now know that it is not legal to ask anyone for a Social Security number," Richardson said. "I would like to take this opportunity to encourage any business owners not to make the same mistake I did."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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