A Duvall, Wash.-based organic herb operation, which ships to nearly 2,700 retailers nationwide, was fined $1 million for firing illegal immigrants, then secretly hiring them back on a night shift to avoid detection.

HerbCo International Inc. officials pled guilty to harboring, concealing or shielding an illegal immigrant and encouraging and inducing an illegal immigrant to reside, according to court documents. In addition, the company was placed on five years’ probation and will have five years to pay the fine.

Three of the company’s executives — Edward Williamson Andrews III, founder and president; David William Lykins Jr., vice president; and Debra Rae Howard, general manager — each pleaded guilty to misdemeanor accounts of aiding and abetting a pattern and practice of employing illegal immigrants, according to court documents. They were placed on one year’s probation.

A former employee reported the company to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In February 2011, the immigration agency warned HerbCo that it planned to audit its I-9 employment verification forms.

The April 2011 audit identified 214 employees that had fraudulent Social Security Numbers. Of those, only 86 were still employed, according to court documents.

Without proper documentation, the company could not continue to employ them, the agency’s auditor told company officials.

On April 21, 2011, HerbCo fired the workers and hired a labor contractor to provide replacements.

But it became apparent that the new workers didn’t have the same packing skills, and customers began complaining, according to court documents. The company hired back 20 to 25 of the fired workers, putting them on a night shift so they wouldn’t be visible to the labor contractor’s employees. The night shift also was paid in cash.

The night shift continued to work from mid-April into June 2011, according to court documents.