Three suspected illegal immigrants who worked for a popular Columbia food store were arrested last week by federal immigration agents as they ran from the store during a raid, federal officials said yesterday.
A shopper also was arrested.
The Aug. 17 raid at Produce Galore in Wilde Lake village was part of "Operation Jobs," a weeklong series of raids in the Baltimore-Washington area that ended in the arrest of 43 people, Immigration and Naturalization Service officials in Baltimore said.
The three men, all in their 20s, were arrested Aug. 17. They were being held on $5,000 bond at the Wicomico County Detention Center, a holding center for illegal immigrants.
The fourth immigrant, a woman in her early 30s, was arrested while shopping at the store. She was released that day on her own recognizance, said Agent Tom Perryman.
The names of those arrested were not released, but all are from El Salvador and were living in Columbia, Agent Perryman said.
Agents made several other arrests in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, including two suspected illegal aliens from Guatemala working for a Laurel landscaping firm, officials said.
The Produce Galore owners, Kent and Margaret Pendleton, have claimed they made proper checks to verify nationalities of workers. They could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Agent Perryman said "there is indication the company had knowledge they were in the U.S. illegally."
The Pendletons could face a $2,000 fine for each illegal worker and additional fines for improper paperwork, officials said. Agent Perryman said it could take more than a month to complete the investigation. He said agents investigated Produce Galore after a tip from a former employee.
When five plainclothes agents made arrived for the surprise check at Produce Galore on Aug. 17, they asked a manager if they could speak to all employees, Agent Perryman said. She agreed, but investigators said the woman alerted the suspected illegal workers and they tried to run out of the back entrance.
Federal agents, used to the tactic, were there waiting to arrest the three, Agent Perryman said.