Tuesday, June 18, 2013

7-11 Franchise Owners Arrested in Labor Trafficking Scheme

On Monday, eight men and one woman from Long Island were arrested with conspiring to commit wire fraud, with stealing identities of U.S. citizens, and with concealing and harboring illegal aliens employed at 7-Eleven Inc. franchise stores in Long Island and Virginia. The identities stolen included three deceased persons and one eight year old child. The arrests were made by U.S. Immigration and 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, who owned the 7- Eleven franchises, created a scheme in which they allegedly hired over 50 illegal aliens and gave them identities stolen from U.S. citizens. U.S. Attorney for the District of New York Loretta Lynch stated that the defendants allegedly forced the immigrants to work 100 hours a week and stole the majority of their pay by taking substantial portions of the paychecks that they received from corporate headquarters.

The defendants also forced their employees to live in and pay cash rent in unregulated and overcrowded boarding houses they owned. Lynch referred to this system as a "plantation system", which has allegedly been going on for more than 13 years. The defendants trafficked the workers from Pakistan or the Philippines, where they had roots, thereby enabling them to recruit from within their own ethnic communities.

Most surprising: there were no safeguards in place at the national 7-Eleven Inc. payroll office. Despite the fact that the defendants had put the same social security numbers for victims working in both Virginia and New York, checks were still sent to both of them. The case began two years ago when a 7-Eleven employee approached the new York State Police about not being paid for his work; later another worker contacted the Suffolk County Police.

This operation highlights several issues often seen in cases of labor trafficking. One, the ease in which people are able to perpetrate these crimes. There was no apparent connection between the two families, yet they both committed similar types of fraud. Second, the victims were classified by the state as "illegal immigrants". Although agents from ICE are currently treating the workers as potential witnesses and are not seeking to move to deport them, Ms. Lynch stated that she felt that the employees "were not innocent victims in this scheme" although "they had been abused". Further investigation is necessary, but in the meantime, these workers should be viewed as potential victims of labor trafficking, brought to the U.S. and exploited.

 ICE, however, did put this note on the bottom of their on-line report:

HSI encourages the public to report suspected labor trafficking, forced labor or the exploitation of undocumented workers through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423 (from the U.S. and Canada), or from anywhere in the world at 1-802-872-6199, or online at www.ice.gov/tips.

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