The owners of 7-Eleven franchises in New York and Virginia created a "modern day plantation system" in which undocumented workers were furnished with stolen identities and forced to work 100 hours a week for a fraction of their wages, according to a federal authorities.
Ten stores in New York and four in Virginia were seized today as part of the federal investigation which found the undocumented workers from Pakistan were given identities stolen from children and the deceased, according to federal prosecutor Loretta E. Lynch.
Farrukh Baig, his wife Bushra, and seven others were charged with fraud, identity theft and concealing illegal immigrants to work in their stores. Court records say they employed illegal workers since 2000, forced them to work long hours for less pay and required them to live in residences owned and controlled by the store owners.
"The 7-11 franchises seized today will be better known for their big fraud than their Big Gulp," said James Hayes, special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's office of investigations in New York.
The investigation, which is one of the largest criminal immigrant employment investigations ever by the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, began when several of the employees tipped off police to the longstanding practice, authorities said.
Federal authorities located at least 18 undocumented workers today and said the could face deportation.
"These defendants ruthlessly exploited their immigrant employees, stealing their wages and requiring them to live in unregulated boarding houses, in effect creating a modern day plantation system," Lynch said.
The federal probe has widened to 40 locations in seven states, including Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York.
A spokeswoman for Dallas-based 7-Eleven said it "will take aggressive actions to audit the employment status of all its franchisees' employees" and pledged full cooperation with the federal probe.
"7-Eleven, Inc. is taking steps to assume corporate operation of the stores involved in this action so we can continue to serve our guests," Margaret Chabris, director of Corporate Communications for 7-Eleven, said in a statement.
After initial court appearances by eight of the nine defendants, they were ordered to be held without bail. Their next court appearances are scheduled for July 15.