The owners of 7-Eleven franchises in New York and Virginia created a "modern day plantation system" in which undocumented workers were furnished with stolen identities and forced to work 100 hours a week for a fraction of their wages, according to a federal authorities.
Ten stores in New York and four in Virginia were seized today as part of the federal investigation which found the undocumented workers from Pakistan were given identities stolen from children and the deceased, according to federal prosecutor Loretta E. Lynch.
"The 7-11 franchises seized today will be better known for their big fraud than their Big Gulp," said James Hayes, special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's office of investigations in New York.
Nine people, including store owners and managers, were charged today with conspiring to commit wire fraud, stealing identities and harboring undocumented immigrants, Lynch said.
After initial court appearances, all defendants were ordered to be held without bail. Their next court appearances are scheduled for July 15.
According to the indicitment, the workers, who are said to be from Pakistan, were forced to live in boarding houses and pay rent to their employers. At least 18 undocumented workers were found today and could be deported, federal authorities said.
The investigation, which is one of the largest criminal immigrant employment investigations ever by the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, began when several of the employees tipped off police, authorities said.
"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," Lynch said.
The federal probe is expected to widen with at least 40 franchises in seven states being inspected today, authorities said.
A spokeswoman for Dallas-based 7-Eleven said it is aware of the investigation and is cooperating with authorities.
"7-Eleven is aware of today's activity and has been cooperating with federal authorities during their investigation," said Margaret Chabris, director of Corporate Communications for 7-Eleven. "We will have no further comment until we learn more."