A disgusting plot involving the smuggling of Pakistani immigrants, stealing their wages, and forcing them to pay for housing — in houses owned by their smugglers — was busted by federal agents who uncovered the 13-year operation in a local 7-Elevens in New York and Virginia. This is going to look very bad for your local Slurpee shop, and the great bodega takeover of New York City.
"From their 7-Eleven stores the defendants dispensed wire fraud and identity theft, along with Slurpees and hot dogs," U.S. attorney Loretta E. Lynch, who has a future in tabloid journalism whenever she wants it, said at a news conference on Monday. James Hayes, the special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's office of investigations in New York, and who could also work at any tabloid he wants, added: "The 7-11 franchises seized today will be better known for their big fraud than their Big Gulp."
The Post and the Daily News may have their competition for tomorrow's papers, but this is serious business: Federal investigators seized fourteen 7-Elevens on Monday — 10 stores on New York's Long Island and four stores across Virginia — after employees at those convenience stories tipped off police. Forty more franchises — some of which are located in New York City, and at least seven other states — are under scrutiny in a massive probe. Twenty-five more of those are under investigation right now.
"The workers, who are said to be from Pakistan, were also forced to live in boarding houses and pay rent to their employers," reported ABC News's Aaron Katersky and Alyssa Newcomb, adding that "at least 18 undocumented workers were found today and could be deported" — even though they were threatened with deportation the whole time. And William K. Rashbaum and Mosi Secret at The New York Times add that the ringleaders managed to get away with their horrific scam by using "20 identities stolen from United States citizens" — and that they "stole substantial portions of their [worker's] wages." That's in addition to ripping off the immigrants by forcing them to pay rent.
Taking advantage of a group of people who can't go to law officials, stealing their money, and essentially turning them into your slaves is what Lynch described as "a modern-day plantation system." We've heard of these type of forced-work schemes turned on immigrants in cities like Dubai, and sexual abuse against undocumented immigrants that goes unpunished is an unfortunate reality in the United States. But what makes the story perhaps more shocking — bad puns from prosecutors aside — is that there's the huge 7-Eleven brand name attached to this scandal.
For those living in New York City, you may have noticed 7-Elevens are starting to creep up and expand into the city rapidly. The bodega takeover has been a key strategy for the company, which wants to increase its total of New York City storefronts each year until 2017, Crain's reported last February. They're one of the few companies — along with banks, Duane Reades, and nail salons — that seem to have the power to transform the Manhattan retail experience by paying for expensive ground-level real estate.
According to The Times team, officials say that since 2000, when they believe the "plantation" plot began, the chain stores have "generated over $182 million" in profits. That's $182 million that is made from immigrants in this country illegally — working and living under abusive conditions. And that money was split with the 7-Eleven corporation, which officials say "lacked enough internal controls to prevent the same Social Security numbers from being used to pay more than one store employee, which happened in more than one instance." Essentially, this could be quite troublesome for 7-Eleven as a company, in that they provided the environment and lacked the safeguards allowing this all to unfold. (The company says it's cooperating with the investigation.)
Nine people have been charged with crimes like wire fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft in association with the smuggling ring. Prosecutors are seeking $30 million and have seized the franchise rights of the stores in question.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.