A married couple and two brothers who operated 7-Eleven stores in Virginia and New York employed dozens of illegal immigrants under assumed identities and exploited the workers by pocketing some of their wages and requiring them to pay rent to live in unlicensed boardinghouses, authorities said.
Federal indictments unsealed Monday in Brooklyn, N.Y., allege that the four owners and five additional defendants carried out the years-long scheme at four 7-Eleven stores in the Norfolk area and 10 stores in Long Island, N.Y.
At least 50 illegal immigrants, most or all of them from Pakistan, were employed at various times under more than 20 stolen identities of U.S. citizens, some of which were used repeatedly, authorities said.
“From their 7-Eleven stores, the defendants dispensed wire fraud and identity theft along with Slurpees and hot dogs,” said Loretta E. Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, whose office is handling the case. “The defendants not only systematically employed illegal immigrants but concealed their crimes by raiding the cradle and the grave to steal the identities of children and even the dead.”
Federal prosecutors filed court papers seeking to seize the franchise rights from the defendants and turn over control of the 14 stores to 7-Eleven’s corporation, known as SEI, which has not been accused of wrongdoing.
A 7-Eleven spokeswoman, Margaret Chabris, said the company will “assume corporate operation of the stores” and “take aggressive action to audit the employment status” of 7-Eleven workers nationwide.
The alleged scheme had been going on for more than a decade, authorities said. They said the investigation is continuing and that federal agents were inspecting the employment record at about 30 other 7-Eleven stores in the country. Lynch called the case “one of the largest criminal immigrant employment investigations ever conducted” by the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
Four of the defendants held the franchise rights to the 14 stores and allegedly supplied the 7-Eleven corporate offices with fraudulent information about the employees. The corporation processes the payroll for store employees, funneling the money through the franchise holders. The four defendants pocketed some of the wages and gave the workers less than they were owed, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
In addition, authorities said, the workers were required to live together in houses owned by the defendants and to turn over more of their wages as rent.
The married couple, Farrukh Baig, 57, and Bushra Baig, 49, both of Long Island, controlled the franchise rights to four Virginia 7-Eleven stores in Norfolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake, according to the prosecutors. The brothers, Azhar Zia, 49, and Ummar Uppal, 48, also of Long Island, controlled the franchise rights to two 7-Elevens in Long Island.
The Baigs and Zia are naturalized U.S. citizens and Uppal is a Pakistani national, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Of five additional defendants, who helped the Baigs run their stores, authorities said, three are naturalized U.S. citizens, one is a Pakistani national and one is a citizen of the Philippines.