Federal authorities seized 14 7-Eleven stores on Long Island and in Virginia early Monday, arresting nine owners and managers and charging them with harboring and hiring illegal immigrants and paying them using sham Social Security numbers, people briefed on the case said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn were also investigating 40 other 7-Eleven franchises in New York City and elsewhere, the person said, and the prosecutors were seeking $30 million in forfeiture from the stores and their corporate parent. The franchises split their profits with the corporation, which handles the store payrolls, the people said.
The owners and managers — eight men and a woman — were charged in an indictment to be unsealed Monday morning, the people said. It included accusations of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft stemming from payment of employees who were illegal immigrants using the Social Security numbers of children and the dead, the people said. One of the people said the owners and managers had abused and taken advantage of the illegal immigrant workers.
Many of those charged were of Pakistani descent and it was believed that most, if not all, of the illegal immigrants were also from Pakistan, one of the people said.
In one instance, an employee of one franchise was paid using the Social Security number of a former 7-Eleven employee, a person who had not worked for the store for 10 years and who had been the target of collection efforts by the Internal Revenue Service for much of that time because of the reported payments to the illegal immigrant, the people said.
The conduct charged in the indictment, the people said, had been going on for more than a decade. Twenty-five of the 40 additional 7-Eleven franchises under scrutiny were to be inspected on Monday as part of the ongoing investigation, the people said. Several of those stores were in New York City.
One of the people briefed on the matter, noting that the parent company handled the store payrolls, said there were no internal controls to prevent the same Social Security numbers from being used to pay more than one store employee, which happened in more than one instance.
Scott Matter, a spokesman for the parent company, said it was aware of the arrests and seizures and “has been cooperating with federal authorities during their investigation.” Mr. Matter said the company would have no comment until it learned more about the case.
By about 9 a.m., eight of the nine who had been indicted were in custody, five of them in New York and three in Virginia, one of the people said. The last individual was being sought.
One of the raids took place about 6 a.m., at a 7-Eleven on Carleton Avenue in Islip, on Long Island, according to a law enforcement agent at the scene who declined to give his name or reveal the agency he worked for. One person, he said, was taken into custody from the store and two people were taken away from a house across the street. It was unclear what connection the house had to the investigation.
The store remained closed through the early morning, with law enforcement agents turning away customers who ordinarily stop in for coffee. A worker for the Town of Islip said he had seen similar law enforcement activity at several other nearby 7-Elevens.
The United States attorney in Brooklyn, Loretta E. Lynch, and James T. Hayes, who is in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s office of investigations in New York City, were expected to announce the charges later Monday morning, along with officials from the New York State Police and the Suffolk County Police Department.
Source: U.S. Seizes 14 7-Eleven Stores in Immigration Raids [NY Times]