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Week in Review

TOP STORIES -- Oct. 19-24

October 26, 2003|From Times Staff

Immigrant Workers Arrested at Wal-Mart

Federal agents investigating Wal-Mart Stores Inc. seized documents from an executive's office and raided 61 stores across the country, arresting about 250 illegal immigrants working on cleaning crews, authorities said.

The investigation grew out of two earlier probes into the use of undocumented workers by cleaning contractors for Wal-Mart. Authorities said Wal-Mart and its executives were the focus of the latest investigation.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the company believed that its subcontractors used only legal workers. Wal-Mart uses its own cleaning crews for most of its 3,412 U.S. stores but contracts with 110 companies to clean about 700 of its stores. None of the stores raided was in California.

Federal authorities declined to identify the Wal-Mart executive whose office at the company's Bentonville, Ark., headquarters was searched.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 21 states confronted the workers just before the night crews were due to finish their shifts, said a spokesman for the agency, known as ICE. Many of the Wal-Mart stores were in the Eastern U.S.

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Judge Declares Mistrial in Quattrone Case

One of the first criminal trials to stem from corporate America's recent scandals ended in a mistrial after a jury deadlocked over whether former Silicon Valley financier Frank Quattrone tried to impede government probes of new-stock offerings.

The outcome of the closely watched case in U.S. District Court in New York represented a stinging defeat for federal prosecutors. The deeply divided jury seemed to indicate that ordinary Americans are less willing to convict corporate executives than previously assumed, potentially making prosecutors reluctant to press such cases while emboldening corporate defendants to fight charges rather than consent to plea bargains.

Quattrone was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of witness tampering. However, the jury appeared to lean in favor of acquittal throughout most of their deliberations.

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Union Sues Markets for Unpaid Wages

The United Food and Commercial Workers union sued three major supermarket chains for failing to pay striking and locked-out workers wages they say they are owed under California law.

The union launched a strike against Safeway Inc.'s Vons and Pavilions stores at midnight Oct. 11. Albertsons Inc. and Ralphs, a unit of Kroger Co., then locked out their union workers.

One of two suits filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court charges that the three chains should have included earned vacation and sick pay in workers' last paychecks. The second suit alleges that those who showed up for work the weekend of Oct. 11 only to be locked out are entitled to "reporting time pay."

The legal actions came as amendments to a lawsuit the union had filed the week before against Ralphs and Albertsons, claiming workers had been locked out without the warning that California law requires.

A Ralphs spokesman said the chains would not comment because they had not seen the suits.

Supermarket and union representatives said there had been no move by either side to restart negotiations.

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MPAA Agrees to Soften Its Ban on 'Screeners'

The Motion Picture Assn. of America agreed to reverse part of its ban on the free DVDs and videos that have long gone to voters who decide the Oscars, but the compromise deal met with resistance from one of Hollywood's big labor unions.

The MPAA, which represents the seven major studios, took the step after protests from filmmakers, independent studios, movie critics and others. For smaller films, in particular, the free movies, known as screeners, are a crucial part of their push for Oscars and other awards.

Under the MPAA's tentative pact with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, movie studios would be allowed to send numbered, encoded videos to the approximately 6,000 Oscar voters.

But other awards voters from Hollywood guilds would be prohibited from receiving screeners.

The Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America appeared willing to support the MPAA deal, but the Screen Actors Guild denounced the move, saying it wanted screeners for the members of its awards nominating committee.

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Putnam Investments Ousts Fund Managers

Putnam Investments said it would oust four international mutual fund managers for making improper, short-term trades of their own funds, as the scandal rocking the $6.9-trillion fund business took a new turn.

Two other managers who engaged in rapid trading were not being replaced, a spokeswoman said.

Although the trading took place in early 2000, the news that portfolio managers had personally profited at the expense of long-term shareholders appalled industry critics who have been following the scandal since New York Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer announced an industrywide probe of fund trading practices Sept. 3.

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