U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, of the Eastern District of New York, announced the indictment of nine people Monday, in one of the largest criminal immigrant employment investigations ever conducted by the Department of Justice.
"We've all seen them, they are part of the roadside scenery of America. They are instantly recognizable to anyone who has run out to buy cigarettes or taken a road trip," Lynch said. "But inside this familiar red, green and orange-striped facade, beside the coffee and the Big Gulps, a decidedly un-American practice was going on inside the stores we've targeted today."
Lynch said that Farrukh Baig, of Head of the Harbor, along with his wife Bushra and six others, including South Setauket resident Malik Yousaf, were allegedly involved in a scheme to force illegal immigrant labor to work long hours in their 7-Eleven franchises, skirting labor laws by using stolen identities to mask the actual time their workers spent on the clock.
7-Eleven stores in Cutchogue and Greenport owned by Baig were shut Monday as part of the raid.
Compounding the crime, Baig then paid the illegal workers a fraction of their actual earnings and forced them to live in housing Baig and his family owned in exchange for rent taken out of their meager cash-only pay.
Baig owned eight 7-Eleven franchises across Long Island, including two locations in Smithtown – including the brand new store on Terry Road, and one each in Islip, Selden, Sag Harbor, Greenport, Nesconset, Cutchogue and Port Jefferson Station.
A similar but unrelated scheme was allegedly being perpetrated at the same time by 7-Eleven franchise owners Azhar Zia, who remains at large, and his partner Ummar Uppal. They owned 7-Eleven stores in Huntington and Islip Terrace.
The franchise owners were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, identity theft and harboring and concealing illegal aliens.
The scheme started to crumble in 2010 when a handful of the undocumented workers could no longer tolerate the conditions and reported Baig and his wife to the state police.
Special Agent James Hayes, of Homeland Security, said that 40 other 7-Eleven locations would be investigated on Monday, including 25 in the New York City area, in an attempt to discover how widespread the practice could be.
Lynch and Hayes both said that the corporate offices of 7-Eleven were cooperating with the investigations, and that no locations would be shut downThe defendants face 20 years in prison on wire fraud conspiracy and alien harboring charges, as well as multiple counts of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory, consecutive two-year term.
Across the North Fork, residents reacted to the news with shock. "It's unbelievable -- they used Gestapo tactics," said Jack Gismondi of Peconic. "They're bullies. All they were missing were the Jackboots."
"'They stormed in," said Gismondi's wife Chris.
One resident, John, of Greenport, who asked that his last name not be used, said he'd heard the news early Monday. "I didn't know what the heck was going on," he said. "But it's good that they caught them."
Others outside the Southold 7-Eleven had not yet heard of the raids.
Additional reporting by Lisa Finn, Joseph Pinciaro and Matt Hampton.