NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Federal agents and police raided nearly a dozen Long Island 7-Eleven stores on Monday morning as part of an investigation into identity theft and human smuggling.
Nine franchise owners and managers are charged with wire fraud conspiracy, identity theft, and concealing and harboring illegal immigrants, officials said.
Since 2000, the defendants allegedly hired dozens of illegal immigrants from Pakistan and gave them identities stolen from U.S. citizens, including the deceased and children, officials said.
“The defendants not only systematically employed illegal immigrants, but concealed their crimes by raiding the cradle and the grave to steal the identities of children and even the dead,” stated U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch.
The defendants are also accused of stealing their workers’ wages and making them live in unregulated boarding houses, “in effect creating a modern day plantation system,” Lynch said.
“Immigrant workers were routinely forced, upon threat of job loss or deportation, to work upwards of 100 hours a week, to live only in the houses the defendants owned, and were given only a small percentage of the money they earned,” Lynch said, referring to what is believed to be 25-30 hours a week in wages, with rent deducted from the cheated salary.
More than a dozen workers, believed to have been brought into the country illegally, have been detained by immigration officials, WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs reported.
The investigation involved 10 stores on Long Island — including locations in Smithtown, Huntington, Selden and Sag Harbor — and four locations in Virginia.
Customers at the 7-Eleven on Union Boulevard in Islip were shocked.
“This is a community 7-Eleven here, the guy meets and greets everybody every morning,” one man said.
Customer John Cherry said it was obvious the boss at the Islip store ruled over his workers, even though he couldn’t understand the language being spoken.
“You can tell. Dominating dialect,” Cherry told WCBS 880’s Xirinachs. “Almost, if I was to guess ‘What are you, stupid?’ ‘What are you thinking?'”
“I think it’s a terrible thing, taking advantage of people who can’t fight back,” Sylvia Greve of Huntington told CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan.
Federal agents are also inspecting about 30 other 7-Eleven stores across the country.
Lawyers for the accused told McLogan the entire indictment is unfounded. However, if the leaders of the alleged scheme recruited under false pretenses, it could lead to charges of involuntary servitude, the legal term for slavery.
7-Eleven, Inc., said it is fully cooperating with the government’s investigation, and will take aggressive steps to audit employee status of all 7-Eleven franchises, McLogan reported.
“7-Eleven is aware of today’s activity against local franchise owners and has been cooperating with federal authorities during their investigation,” the company said in a statement. “We will have no further comment until we learn more.”
Everyone arrested pleaded not guilty.
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