Immigration laws, slave labor and retail intersected in a federal indictment unsealed Monday (June 17), when federal prosecutors charged that more than a dozen 7-Eleven franchises took in more than $180 million in revenue by running a "modern-day plantation system," built on the unpaid labor of dozens of illegal immigrants hired using sham Social Security numbers, as The New York Times put it.
As part of the probe, authorities are reviewing payroll and employment information from 40 additional 7-Eleven franchises in seven states, said James T. Hayes, head of the New York office of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's investigative arm.
The idea of the scheme was these 7-Eleven owners targeted immigrants from Pakistan and the Philippines, most of whom had overstayed their visas. "Immigrant workers were routinely forced, upon threat of job loss or deportation, to work upwards of 100 hours a week, to live only in the houses the defendants owned and were given only a small percentage of the money they earned," said U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch.
Said a Justice Department statement: "The defendants, who owned, managed and controlled fourteen 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 United States citizens, housed them at residences owned by the defendants, and stole substantial portions of their wages."
"The 7-11 franchises seized today will be better known for their big fraud than their Big Gulp," said HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Hayes. "As alleged, the franchise owners knowingly and repeatedly employed an illegal workforce and abused and exploited that workforce for more than 13 years."
Prosecutors seized the 14 franchises connected to the two alleged schemes. The stores will remain open and be run by 7-Eleven's corporate arm, the U.S. attorney's office said.