CENTRAL ISLIP - Federal authorities swooped into 7-Eleven convenience stores across Long Island yesterday morning and rounded up several franchise owners and managers who stand accused of employing undocumented workers, setting them up with fraudulent identities and then cheating them out of their due pay.
Federal prosecutors say the convenience store hierarchy was structured like a "modern-day plantation system," where the immigrant workers were treated as lowly serfs. The series of raids and arrests this morning were part of a larger investigation into the labor practices of 7-Elevens in other parts of the country, including Virginia.
The alleged worker exploitation scheme involved 10 different 7-Eleven locations on Long Island, including stores in Greenport, Cutchogue, Port Jefferson, Huntington and Islip. Police say the store owners and managers apparently recruited workers from their own ethnic communities, namely Pakistan and the Philippines, and set them up with false identities. In some cases, the same stolen Social Security number was shared among multiple workers.
Prosecutors say that the workers were paid a fraction of what they were owed for working extremely long weeks. In addition, many of the workers were forced to live at homes that were owned by the store's management, and rent was automatically deducted from the workers' already diminished paychecks. They were ordered to stay hidden if they wanted to keep their jobs, authorities say.
Nine store owners and managers are now facing various charges that include harboring dozens of illegal immigrants, fraud and identity theft. Court documents state that the defendants generated more than $182 million in proceeds from the various franchise locations. Those profits were shared by the defendants and 7-Eleven, prosecutors say.
Long Islanders who frequent the stores involved were shocked to hear of the shady dealings allegedly behind the scenes at the places where they purchase Slurpees and coffee.
For video of federal authorities making arrests at a Long Island home, click on the link to the left or click News 12 Extra on Channel 612.