NEW YORK (TheBlaze/AP) -- Nine owners and managers of 7-Eleven stores across Long Island and in Virginia were charged on Monday in a scheme to harbor illegal immigrants from Pakistan and the Philippines, in part by paying them using bogus Social Security numbers of a child and three dead people.
“Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn were also investigating 40 other 7-Eleven franchises in New York City and elsewhere,” the New York Times reports, “and the prosecutors were seeking $30 million in forfeiture from the stores and their corporate parent.”
Most of the defendants were arrested early Monday as federal authorities raided 14 franchise stores.
Federal indictments naming eight men and one woman allege that they employed more than 50 immigrants who were in the U.S. illegally. They tried to conceal the immigrants' employment by stealing the identities of about two dozen people -- including those of the child, the dead and a Coast Guard cadet -- and submitting the information to the 7-Eleven payroll department.
When 7-Eleven's headquarters sent the wages for distribution, the employers stole "significant portions" of the workers' pay, authorities said.
“The conduct charged in the indictment,” the NYT report continues, “had been going on for more than a decade.”
The defendants also forced the workers to live in houses they owned and pay them rent in cash, they added.
"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," U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement.
"Finally, these defendants ruthlessly exploited their immigrant employees, stealing their wages and requiring them to live in unregulated boarding houses, in effect creating a modern day plantation system."
Many of those charged were of Pakistani descent.
The government seized the franchise rights of 10 stores in New York and four stores in Virginia. The stores will remain open under the parent company's operation.
Immigration officials detained 18 workers, including some who first notified authorities about the alleged fraud.
The defendants were to appear in court on Long Island and Norfolk, Va., later in the day to face wire fraud conspiracy, identity theft and alien harboring charges. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of conspiracy.
A 7-Eleven spokesman said the company has “been cooperating with federal authorities during their investigation,” but declined further comment.
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