updated 3/18/2005 3:00:42 PM ET 2005-03-18T20:00:42

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, has agreed to pay $11 million to settle federal allegations it used hundreds of illegal immigrants to clean its stores, authorities said Friday.

Additionally, 12 businesses that provided contract janitor services to Wal-Mart will pay $4 million in fines and plead guilty to criminal immigration charges, officials said.

The case against Wal-Mart marks a record dollar amount for a civil immigration settlement, said Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

It also “requires Wal-Mart to create an internal program to ensure future compliance with immigration laws by Wal-Mart contractors and by Wal-Mart itself,” Garcia said Friday in announcing the settlement.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams told The Associated Press the company is “ready to put it behind us and move forward.”

Though Wal-Mart does not face criminal charges, “we acknowledge that we should have had better safeguards in place to ensure our contractors were hiring only legal workers,” Williams said. “That’s why we’re agreeing to pay the $11 million.

“It is a lot of money, but I think that is because it is designed to get attention and remind businesses everywhere that they have a duty to ensure their outside contractors are following federal immigration laws.”

In two separate investigations, authorities arrested 352 illegal immigrants contracted as janitors at Wal-Mart stores — about a third of whom have since been deported to their home countries. Many of the workers worked seven days or nights a week without overtime pay or injury compensation, attorneys said. Those who worked nights were often locked in the store until the morning.

Wal-Mart Stores, based in Bentonville, Ark., had sales last year of $288.19 billion.

In 2001, authorities arrested an estimated 100 illegal immigrants at Wal-Mart stores in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Missouri. Last year, on Oct. 23, federal agents raided 60 Wal-Mart stores in 21 states, netting 245 immigrants who were placed in deportation proceedings. ICE said the workers came from 18 different nations, including 90 from Mexico, 35 from the Czech Republic, 22 from Mongolia and 20 from Brazil.

Officials said at the time of the raids the investigation involved wiretaps that revealed Wal-Mart executives were aware that the subcontractors used illegal workers. Once the raid began, Wal-Mart told its executives to preserve documents. Federal agents didn’t wait and moved in on part of the company’s Bentonville headquarters, taking boxes from the office of a midlevel executive.

Wal-Mart, with 1.2 million domestic workers, had pledged its cooperation in the investigation. Previously, the company said it used more than 100 third-party contractors to clean more than 700 stores nationwide.

Now, Williams said, Wal-Mart uses its own workers to clean floors inside its U.S. stores.

An employer can face civil and criminal penalties for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants or failing to comply with certain employee record-keeping regulations. But the settlement spared Wal-Mart of any criminal charges, though it still faces a civil suit on behalf of the immigrants that is pending in New Jersey.

“We’re happy that Wal-Mart may finally be putting this shameful chapter to rest with the federal authorities and we expect them now to focus on the people who were shamefully exploited from around the world,” said attorney James L. Linsey, who is representing the immigrants’ civil claims.

The federal settlement also directs Wal-Mart to train all current and future store managers to prevent employing, hiring or recruiting illegal immigrants, and to comply with ongoing investigations of cleaning contractors previously used by the company.

In connection with the case, 12 cleaning contractor businesses in six states have agreed to plead guilty in federal court in Pennsylvania to hiring illegal workers between 1998 and 2002. The contractors — in Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida — have agreed to pay $4 million in fines as part of their plea agreement, officials said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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