Federal authorities have rounded up Monday nine 7-Eleven store owners, managers and workers on Long Island for allegedly smuggling illegal immigrants from Pakistan using stolen identities and forcing them to turn over their pay.
The suspects, who ran 14 of the franchise convenience stores, including several in Virginia that were also raided, have been taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents in a joint investigation that included New York State and Suffolk County police.
“The defendants dispensed wire fraud and identity theft, along with Slurpees and hotdogs,” said Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, who characterized the bust as one of the largest in federal law enforcement history. She called the scheme a “modern day plantation system.”
The suspects used the stolen identities to hide the victims’ immigration status, steal their workers wages and force them to live in illegal boarding houses. The victims were afraid to report the crimes because they were afraid of being deported or arrested, officials said.
Prosecutors said the suspects employed more than 50 undocumented workers over the past 13 years, forced them to live in homes owned by the franchisees and required that they pay their rent in cash.
The more than 25 identity theft victims range in age from 8 to 78, three dead people and a Coast Guard cadet, authorities said. Federal agents raided up to 30 7-Elevens nationwide as a part of the probe.
At the center of the alleged scheme was a Head of the Harbor couple that owns and controls a dozen 7-Elevens on LI and in Virginia and two of their relatives. Two brothers from Great River and Islip Terrace that own and control another two 7-Elevens in Suffolk County were also among those arrested.
The suspects will be arraigned Monday at Central Islip federal court on charges of wire fraud, conspiracy and alien harboring. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.