Coalition Leader, Authorities Speak Out Over 7-Eleven Raid

Published in CSP Daily News

Defendants exploited immigrants, "creating modern-day plantation system," says U.S. attorney

Bruce Maples

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- In the wake of the indictments of nine independent 7-Eleven franchisees and managers from Long Island, N,Y.--charged with conspiring to commit wire fraud, stealing identities and concealing and harboring illegal immigrants employed at 7-Eleven Inc. franchise stores throughout Long Island and Virginia--Bruce Maples, chairman of the National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisees, released a statement.

Meanwhile, federal and local authorities weighed in on the situation.

"Members of the National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisees pledge to observe the highest standards of competency, fairness and integrity in the conduct of their relations as franchised owners of 7-Eleven stores. Every franchisee is an independent contractor, and solely controls the operation of their store(s). The national coalition expects every member of our organization to operate their stores in an ethical and honest manner, in accordance with all U.S. laws and consistent with the 7-Eleven franchise agreement," said Maples, whose Tucson, Ariz.-based group represents the interests of approximately 4,700 convenience store owners with nearly 5,900 franchise-owned stores that employ more than 40,000 workers.

The nine defendants are Farrukh Baig, 57, and Bushra Baig, 49, a married couple who owned, co-owned or controlled 12 of the 14 7-Eleven franchise stores, located on Long Island and in Virginia; Zahid Baig, 52, and Shannawaz Baig, 62, Farrukh Baig's brothers who helped to manage and control the stores; and Malik Yousaf, 51, Tariq Rana, 34, and Ramon Nanas, 49. Brothers Ahzar Zia, 49, and Ummar Uppal, 48, indicted separately, owned and controlled two other Suffolk County 7-Eleven franchise stores.

During the course of the conspiracies, they allegedly hired dozens of illegal immigrants, equipped them with more than 20 identities stolen from U.S. citizens, housed them at residences owned by the defendants and stole substantial portions of their wages.

"As set forth in the indictments, the defendants used 7-Eleven as a platform from which to run elaborate criminal enterprises. From their 7-Eleven stores, the defendants dispensed wire fraud and identity theft, along with Slurpees and hot dogs. In bedroom communities across Long Island and Virginia, 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. 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," said Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, who announced the arrests, charges and seizures.

"The 7-Eleven franchises seized today will be better known for their big fraud than their Big Gulp. As alleged, the franchise owners knowingly and repeatedly employed an illegal workforce and abused and exploited that workforce for more than 13 years," said James T. Hayes Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge for the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations, New York field office (HSI) "This charged criminal scheme had a vast detrimental effect on both the employees who were overworked and cheated out of wages, as well as the more than 25 American citizens whose lives were upended by the theft of their identities in furtherance of the scheme."

Joseph A. D'Amico, superintendent of the New York State Police, said, "As alleged in the indictment, these nine individuals took full advantage of illegal immigrants through a multi-state scheme that generated millions in profits for themselves while ignoring the common decency in the employer/employee relationship. The defendants allegedly provided the illegal immigrants with false documentation, stole significant portions of their wages and set them up in living arrangements that left the individuals completely beholden to them. I commend the unwavering dedication of the State Police Investigators who worked with our partners from federal, state and local law enforcement to make these defendants accountable for their actions."

Edward Webber, commissioner of the Suffolk County Police, said, "As charged in the indictments, the defendants have been exploiting vulnerable individuals who, due to their immigration status, may have been afraid to come forward and report possible wrongdoing by their employers," said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Webber. "This multi-agency investigation illustrates our commitment to fighting against employers who abuse immigrant employees for their own financial gain."

And Edward Ryan, special agent in charge for the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General (SSA-OIG), said, "The Social Security Number System within the Social Security Administration (SSA) tracks individuals' earnings throughout their work history to later determine the SSA retirement benefit they have earned. The type of alleged actions of the individuals named in this indictment not only violates federal law, but also threatens the integrity of the Social Security Number System by causing wages to be erroneously posted to SSA's system of records."

In a previously released statement, Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc. said, "The U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn [on Monday] announced it had filed two indictments related to alleged wrongdoing by independent 7-Eleven franchisees. 7-Eleven Inc. has cooperated with the government's investigation. All of our franchise owners must operate their stores in accordance with laws and the 7-Eleven franchise agreement. 7-Eleven Inc. will take aggressive actions to audit the employment status of all its franchisees' employees. 7-Eleven Inc. is taking steps to assume corporate operation of the stores involved in this action so we can continue to serve our guests. We continue to cooperate with federal authorities in this matter."