Fourteen 7-Eleven stores in Virginia and on eastern Long Island, including the one in Sag Harbor, were seized by the United States Justice Department on Monday morning, their owners accused of identity theft, conspiring to commit wiring fraud, harboring illegal immigrants who were employed at the stores, and simultaneously skimming their wages.
The United States Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn indicted the owners on Monday. In a press release from the office of Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. attorney for the eastern district of New York, the government said that the eight men and one woman charged would use stolen identities to smuggle “dozens of illegal immigrants” into the country, then employ them at the stores, providing housing for them, while stealing “substantial portions” of the vulnerable workers’ weekly pay.
The identities stolen included those from children as young as 8 years old and from “three dead people and a Coast Guard cadet.” The defendants “stole significant portions of the illegal immigrants wages, rather than paying the workers in full,” the statement said.
“From their 7-Eleven stores, the defendants dispersed wire fraud and identity theft along with Slurpees and hot dogs,” Ms. Lynch said in the statement. “These defendants ruthlessly exploited their immigrant employees, stealing their wages and required them to live in unregulated boarding houses, in effect creating a modern day plantation system,” Ms. Lynch said.
The press release calls the investigation one of the largest ever into criminal immigrant employment, and said it is being conducted by the Justice Department, along with Immigration Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security.
The Justice Department believes the operation has been going on since 2000, resulting in over 50 illegal immigrants being brought into the country.
The investigation is still ongoing, with more stores possibly targeted by the investigators, according to Ms. Lynch’s office.
Arraignment of the nine was to occur Monday afternoon. They include Farrukh Baig, 57, and Bushra Baig, 49, both of Head of Harbor, Malik Yousaf, 51, of South Setauket, Zahid Baig, 52, and Tariq Rana, 34, of Chesapeake, Va., Shannawaz Baig, 62, of Virginia Beach, Ramon Nanas, 49, and Azhar Zia, 49, of Great River, and Ummar Uppal, 48, of Islip Terrace.