Feds seize over a dozen 7-11 stores in New York and Virginia
According to the Justice and Homeland Security Departments on Monday, over a dozen 7-Eleven franchises were able to make over $180 million by running, what New York prosecutors are calling, a “modern-day plantation system.”
The ill gotten gains were made through the unpaid labor of dozens of illegal immigrants hired using stolen social security numbers.
On Monday federal authorities seized 14 7-Eleven stores on Long Island and in Virginia. Nine owners and managers were arrested and property seized, including five homes. The feds are currently investigating an additional 40 other 7-Eleven franchises in New York City and elsewhere.
According to the Justice Department this is the largest criminal immigrant employment investigation ever conducted by the Justice and Homeland Security Departments.
Franchisees for the parent company were licensed to use 7-Eleven buildings and trademarks, including Slurpee and hot dog machines. The owners and managers then recruited over 50 illegal immigrants, giving them identities stolen from American citizens, including children and dead people.
The employees worked a 100 hours per week, but were only paid a fraction of what they should have earned. Workers were forced to live in substandard housing owned by the operators of the stores.
Store managers were able to operate unnoticed for over a decade, since 7-Eleven Inc., which has more than 7,600 stores in the United States, did not have safeguards in place to protect its payroll system from employee fraud. Safeguards such as preventing individuals from using the same social security number.
United States attorney Loretta E. Lynch said there was “little to no effort to insure the integrity of their payroll system.” Lynch’s office in Brooklyn helped investigate the case.
In a statement, 7-Eleven Inc., spokesman Scott Matter said that 7-Eleven would “take aggressive actions to audit the employment status of all its franchisees’ employees.” 7-Eleven Inc., is one of the largest operators of convenience stores in the world and are headquartered in Dallas.
Federal immigration officials made it clear that this type of “wage theft” and other abuses of workers are now treated as a priority.
Vincent Picard, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesman, claims the timing of the arrests is not related to the debate currently being waged in Washington around immigration reform.
The case is a culmination of two years of investigative work which all started after an employee contacted New York State Police because he wasn’t being paid.
Two families have been tied to the investigation which led officials to arrest Farrukh and Bushra Baig, a married couple and American citizens from Pakistan. The pair owned and managed 12 stores in New York and Virginia. Also arrested were Baig’s two brothers, Zahid and Shannawaz, along with associates, Malik Yousaf, Tariq Rana and Ramon Nanas.
In a separate case Ahzar Zia, a citizen of the United States and Pakistan, and Ummar Uppal, who the authorities said was an illegal immigrant were arrested. They owned and operated two stores in Suffolk County.
According to Lynch the employees were not innocent victims, but she added, they had been abused.
At a press conference Lynch said, “From their 7-Eleven stores the defendants dispensed wire fraud and identity theft, along with Slurpees and hot dogs,” continuing she explained, “In bedroom communities across Long Island and Virginia, the defendants not only systematically employed illegal immigrants but concealed their crimes by raiding the cradle and grave to steal the identify of children and even the dead.”
Lynch says the defendants created a modern day plantation system, forcing employees to live in unregulated boardinghouses.
Charges filed include wire fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft. Each pleaded not guilty in federal court.
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