updated 12/19/2003 12:11:33 PM ET 2003-12-19T17:11:33

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. says it had been actively cooperating with federal investigators for three years when agents surprised the world's largest retailer with a raid that rounded up about 250 alleged illegal cleaning workers at Wal-Mart stores in 21 states.

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Wal-Mart, known as a cost-cutter, said Friday it slowed a money-saving plan to move its floor cleaning in-house so it could better help the government investigate the use of alleged illegal workers by janitorial contractors.

The retailer also said it is the target of a federal grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania, which was among the states where the raids were conducted. The panel convened this month, following the raids in October, in which agents also searched Wal-Mart offices at its Bentonville headquarters.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams told The Associated Press on Friday that the company had been cooperating with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement investigators for three years and didn't think Wal-Mart was a target. But, after the raids, the government told the company that agents weren't satisfied with Wal-Mart's level of cooperation.

"We even had some of our store managers tape conversations with contractors ... to see if we could get them to say anything incriminating," Williams said.

The taping was at the request federal agents but it didn't lead to any evidence against the contractors. Williams said the effort reinforced Wal-Mart's belief that the contractors were hiring legal workers.

"We were simply stunned by the raids," she said, adding that the company maintained its contracts with the floor-cleaning contractors at government request.

Wal-Mart has not been charged with a crime.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Samuelson didn't immediately return a call Friday morning from The Associated Press for comment.

Williams complained that the investigators leaked details of the investigation in advance of the raid.

She said the government could have simply asked for documents, rather then raiding the Bentonville offices.

"I don't know how we could have been more cooperative unless we had literally turned into policemen ourselves," Williams said.

She said the company will continue to cooperate with the government.

Law enforcement sources have said the investigation grew out of earlier probes of Wal-Mart cleaning crew contractors in 1998 and 2001, including an inquiry done in conjunction with the Pennsylvania attorney general's office.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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