Federal immigration authorities raided and seized fourteen convenience stores in New York and Virginia as part of a widespread investigation into alleged criminal immigration employment practices. The investigation is reportedly one of the largest criminal investigations of this type in U.S. history. The stores were all franchises of the Texas-based 7-Eleven convenience store chain. Federal prosecutors have charged eight men and one woman with conspiracy, identity theft, and various immigration-related offenses, alleging that they ran a “modern-day plantation system” that exploited undocumented immigrant workers.
The raids took place during the early morning of Monday, June 17, 2013, when agents from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reportedly seized ten 7-Eleven stores on Long Island and four in Virginia. The nine people arrested and charged were all located in New York. Two of the defendants, a married couple, reportedly owned twelve of the fourteen stores, which were managed by another five of the defendants. The other two defendants reportedly owned two stores in Suffolk County, and were indicted separately on similar charges. Federal authorities forfeited the franchises, and the stores are currently under the direct management of the national 7-Eleven company.
According to federal prosecutors, the stores used undocumented immigrants from Pakistan and the Philippines as a mostly-unpaid labor force, keeping most of the wages processed by 7-Eleven’s parent company. The defendants allegedly made the immigrants work 100-hour weeks, and covered up the employment fraud in 7-Eleven’s payroll system by using stolen Social Security numbers. Prosecutors claim that the defendants made more than $182 million as a result of these actions, which included the alleged employment fraud and other acts of wire fraud. The defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and two offenses found in the federal immigration code: conspiracy to conceal and harbor undocumented immigrants for financial gain, and concealment and harboring of undocumented immigrants for financial gain. 8 U.S.C. § 1324.
ICE is still investigating another forty 7-Eleven stores in New York and other states. The national 7-Eleven company reportedly did not have safeguards in its payroll system to monitor possible fraud among over 7,600 stores and franchises around the country. Several days after the raids, the national company announced that it would be sending immigration compliance monitors to about 5,000 stores, and that all franchises must conduct their own reviews by June 30. It also said that any franchise not in compliance would face fines of up to $1,100 per violation. This is the maximum amount that federal immigration authorities may fine an employer that is not complying with employment authorization verification requirements. Employers that knowingly hire someone without work authorization could face a fine of up to $3,200 per worker for a first offense, increasing to $16,000 by the third offense.
Immigration attorney Samuel C. Berger practices in the New York and New Jersey areas, representing immigrants, prospective immigrants, family members petitioning for a loved one, and employers who want to bring a worker to the United States. Contact us today online or at (212) 380-8117 to schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our legal team.
United States v. Baig, et al (PACER registration required), No. CR-13-351, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York
United States v. Zia, et al (PACER registration required), No. CR-13-352, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York
More Blog Posts:
Revised I-9 Form Became Mandatory for Employers on May 7, 2013, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, May 29, 2013
I-9 Audits on the Rise, According to Federal Immigration Authorities, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, January 4, 2013
Natural Disasters and I-9 Compliance, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, November 9, 2012
Photo credit: By 66Sheila (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.