Federal Raid Targets N.Y., Va. 7-Eleven Stores

Published in CSP Daily News

Investigation into franchisee exploitation of illegal immigrants going nationwide (slideshow)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- The federal government on Monday indicted eight men and one woman 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.

The charges, arrests and seizures of assets resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General, the New York State Police and the Suffolk County Police.

The defendants are Farrukh Baig, 57, and Bushra Baig, 49, a married couple who owned, co-owned or controlled 12 of the 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.

Through this scheme, the defendants, who owned, managed and controlled 14 7-Eleven franchise stores during the course of the conspiracies, 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.

The indictments, arrests and seizures are the result of one of the largest criminal alien employment investigations ever conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. As set forth in court filings, the government has moved to forfeit the franchise rights to 10 7-Eleven stores in New York and four 7-Eleven stores in Virginia. In the indictments, the government has also moved to forfeit five houses in New York worth more than $1.3 million. According to DHS, this case constitutes the largest criminal alien forfeiture in its history.

In addition to the charges already filed, federal agents fanned out early Monday across the country to execute multiple search and seizure warrants and inspect approximately 30 7-Eleven franchise stores. The actions taken are the initial results of an ongoing investigation into the employment and exploitation of illegal aliens at 7-Eleven franchise stores nationwide.

"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," Dallas-based 7-Eleven said in a statement provided to CSP Daily News. "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."

If convicted, the defendants will face 20 years' imprisonment on wire fraud conspiracy and alien harboring charges, as well as multiple counts of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory, consecutive two-year term of incarceration.

Also, all property used to facilitate the harboring of illegal immigrants, together with all proceeds of the wire fraud conspiracy and alien harboring charges, are subject to forfeiture. The defendants will be presented for arraignment later today at the U.S. Courthouses in Central Islip, N.Y., and Norfolk, Va.

According to court filings, from 2000 until the present, the defendants collectively and systematically employed more than 50 illegal immigrants at 14 7-Eleven franchise stores in Long Island and Virginia. Rather than transmitting the true identification information of the illegal immigrant employees to 7-Eleven headquarters for processing, the defendants allegedly used more than 20 stolen identities, submitting stolen names and Social Security numbers of U.S. citizens to conceal the presence of illegal immigrants on the 7-Eleven franchise store payrolls.

7-Eleven headquarters processed the payroll and sent the employees' wages to the defendants for distribution. The defendants then allegedly stole significant portions of the illegal immigrants' wages, rather than paying the workers in full. The defendants also required the illegal immigrant to live in residences owned by the defendants and to pay rent in cash to the defendants.

As alleged in court documents, the victims of the identity theft hail from seven states, range in age from eight to 78 years old, and include a child, three dead people and a Coast Guard cadet. In addition, the defendants, together with others, caused the 7-Eleven payroll service to transmit this false information, including the stolen identity information, to U.S. regulatory agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration.

During the scheme, the defendants allegedly generated more than $182 million in proceeds from the 7-Eleven franchise stores. Profits from those stores were shared by the defendants and 7-Eleven.

The first defendants--Farrukh Baig, Head of Harbor, N.Y.; Bushra Baig, Head of Harbor; Malik Yousaf, South Setauket, N.Y.; Zahid Baig, Chesapeake, Va.; Shannawaz Baig, Virginia Beach, Va.; Tariq Rana, Chesapeake; Ramon Nanas, Great River, N.Y.; Azhar Zia, Great River; Ummar Uppal, Islip Terrace, N.Y.--are scheduled to begin appearing before U.S. District Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, N.Y., on  July 17.