Federal authorities raided 14 7-Eleven locations Monday
on Long Island and in Virginia arresting nine owners and managers and seizing property that included five homes.
Using Social Security number shams that allowed them to employ and underpay dozens of illegal workers, the 7-Eleven franchises had reportedly accrued more than $180 million in revenue, according to prosecutors who described the arrangement as a "modern-day plantation system."
An additional 40 other 7-Eleven convenience stores in New York City and elsewhere are also being investigated in what Justice and Homeland Security Departments officials say is one of the largest criminal immigrant employment investigations ever conducted by the departments.
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More than 50 illegal immigrants worked on average more than 100 hours per week being paid only a fraction of their earnings, officials say.
As part of the scheme, the illegals received identities stolen from American citizens
, including children and dead people, the New York Times reported.
The fraud went unnoticed, in some cases for more than a decade, by the national company – 7-Eleven Inc. – because it lacked safeguards to protect its payroll system from employee fraud, investigators claim.
There was "little to no effort to insure the integrity of their payroll system," Loretta E. Lynch, the United States attorney in Brooklyn, whose office helped investigate the case, told The Times.
In one blatant case, the same Social Security number was being used by two immigrant employees, one working at a 7-Eleven in New York and the other working out of a Virginia franchise.
Scott Matter, a spokesman for 7-Eleven Inc., said the company was cooperating with federal authorities and that it would "take aggressive actions to audit the employment status of all its franchisees’ employees."
Based in Dallas, Texas, 7-Eleven Inc. is one of the largest operators of convenience stores in the world with 7,600 stores in the U.S. alone.
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The case started two years ago after an employee at a Long Island 7-Eleven told the New York State Police that he was not being paid for his work. Another worker later contacted the Suffolk County police, the Times reported.
Two families, from Pakistan and the Philippines, appear to be at core of the fraud, often recruiting immigrants from within their own ethnic communities.
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