LABOR AGENCY SEEKS $5 MILLION IN SWEATSHOP PROBE

LABOR AGENCY SEEKS $5 MILLION IN SWEATSHOP PROBE

The Labor Department is seeking $5 million from clothing makers linked to a Los Angeles sweatshop where Thai laborers allegedly were threatened with rape or death if they stopped churning out garments for major retail stores.

Labor Secretary Robert Reich on Tuesday named 14 manufacturers and 18 retailers that apparently benefited from the "contract shop," where more than 60 workers toiled up to 22 hours a day in an apartment compound surrounded by razor wire to repay the cost of coming to America.Most of the manufacturers and retailers named by Mr. Reich have denied knowledge of the sweatshop and promised to cooperate, department spokesman Scott Sutherland said.

The manufacturers named by Mr. Reich are: F40 California Inc., Tomato Inc., L.F. Sportswear, Ms. Tops of California, Balmara Inc., New Boys Inc./Voltage Inc., Point Zero, Excuses Sportswear, Paragraff Clothing Co., Bermo Enterprises, A&M Casuals, US Boys, B.U.M. International and Diane Samandi (the Jonquil label).

The retailers named are: Montgomery Ward, Sears, Foley's Petites, Macy's West, Meier & Frank, Robinson's, May, Hecht's, Filene's, Kaufman's, Neiman Marcus, Dayton Hudson, Mervyn's, Broadway, Rich's, Speciality Retailers Inc., Fred Meyer, Venture and Lerner.

Last week, federal agents raided an El Monte sweatshop and charged six Thai nationals suspected of running the operation with harboring illegal immigrants. Two others were charged with smuggling immigrants. The charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.