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Evidence in Long Island Houses of 7-Eleven ‘Plantation’

7-Eleven - Human TraffickingNew York Times: Evidence in Long Island Houses of 7-Eleven ‘Plantation’

They were known as the “7-Eleven Houses,” the two shabby homes in Islip Terrace on Long Island, and not simply because of their proximity to the 7-Eleven on Carleton Avenue — one across the street and one tucked behind it. It was because, morning and night, the men, more than half a dozen just from one house, some neighbors said, would file from the peeling doorways to work at the convenience store in shifts so long that it sometimes seemed as if they lived not in the tattered houses, but at the shop.

But on Monday, after federal authorities indicted the owners of the 7-Eleven and seized the store, it was revealed that the houses were what prosecutors in New York State referred to as part of “a modern-day plantation system,” packed with illegal immigrants living in substandard conditions, working under false Social Security numbers, and being paid pennies on the dollar for hundreds of hours of labor.

“The guys worked tons of hours — they were always there,” said Nicole Koerner, 30, who lives across the street from one of the homes. She said she typically visited the store three times a day, often seeing the same employee during multiple visits in a 24-hour period. “I would say, ‘Take a vacation,’ ” she said. The response, invariably, was laughter.

The investigation — one of the largest inquiries into criminal employment of immigrants ever conducted by the Homeland Security and Justice Departments, officials said — has led to the seizure of 14 stores in Virginia and on Long Island, and it is also focusing on 40 other 7-Eleven franchises in New York City and elsewhere. In Islip Terrace, two brothers — Azhar Zia, a United States and Pakistani citizen, and Ummar Uppal, who officials said was an illegal Pakistani immigrant, were indicted.

The defendants, franchisees for the parent company, used identities stolen from American citizens, including dead people and at least one child, to recruit and employ over 50 illegal immigrants in the shops, according to prosecutors. But they are also accused of paying those employees only $300 to $500 for 100-hour workweeks, officials said, and forcing them to live in the houses. Investigators seized five homes, including the two in Islip Terrace.

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