NORRISTOWN -- Embarrassment is not a sufficient reason to break a contract, according to the Montgomery County commissioners.

However, all three commissioners Thursday made it clear that if they found a legal reason for ending their relationship with ABM Industries Inc., which is under contract with the county to provide janitorial services for the county courthouse and the county-owned One Montgomery Plaza high-rise office building directly across Swede Street from the courthouse, they would.

"I want to use a heavy hand here," said Commissioners Chairman James R. Matthews.

The commissioners were responding to last week's arrest of 42 ABM employees by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents for alleged immigration violations.

These employees either entered the United States illegally or remained beyond their authorized time, according to ICE public affairs officer Ernestine Fobbs.

Nine of those employees scooped up in the enforcement action performed cleaning services at the courthouse or One Montgomery Plaza, according to county administrators.

"This is just embarrassing, with many members of the public thinking we employed these people," said Commissioner Bruce L. Castor Jr., the county's former district attorney. "We should just be able to say to ABM that, if you send us people who are illegal, you no longer work for us."

In a letter to the county, ABM states that it has fully complied with federal, state and local hiring eligibility requirements. Prospective employees are required to provide documentation establishing both their identity and work eligibility, according to the letter from ABM's lawyer.

The letter points out that ICE has not taken any action against ABM and that ABM fully cooperated with ICE in its enforcement action.

Fobbs agreed that ABM cooperated in the enforcement action but declined comment on whether the company's hiring practices complied with federal laws. She said the investigation is ongoing.

"I share the concern of both of my colleagues and we should keep close track of them," said Commissioner Joseph M. Hoeffel III.

"We just have no evidence that they knew about these illegals," said Matthews. "I can conjecture but I am not comfortable canceling a contract on conjecture."

The commissioners directed their solicitor's office and administrators to stay on top of the matter and monitor whether any ICE action is taken against ABM.

The county in February awarded ABM a $251,100 one-year contract for janitorial services.

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