The Sag Harbor 7-Eleven was one of 14 such convenience stores on Long Island and in Virginia raided by federal authorities on Monday morning in a crackdown that also charged nine franchise owners and operators with conspiring to commit wire fraud, stealing identities, and concealing and harboring illegal immigrants.
The indictments, arrests and seizures are the result of one of the largest criminal immigrant employment investigations ever conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security, officials said.
The indicted employees are accused of employing more than 50 illegal immigrants at the stores since 2000, giving them identities stolen from U.S. citizens, housing them in homes owned by the defendants, and stealing significant portions of their wages. Most of the workers are Pakistani and some are Filipino, authorities said.
Those charged are Farrukh Baig, 57, and his wife, Bushra Baig, 49, both of Head of Harbor; Mr. Baig’s brothers, Zahid Baig, 52, of Chesapeake, Virginia, and Shannawaz Baig, 62, of Virginia Beach, Virginia; as well as Malik Yousaf, 51, of South Setauket; Tariq Rana, 34, of Chesapeake, Virgina; Ramon Nanas, 49, and Azhar Zia, 49, both of Great River; and Ummar Uppal, 48, of Islip Terrace. Six of the defendants are naturalized U.S. citizens, two are from Pakistan, and one is from the Philippines.
All pleaded not guilty and were detained without bail following Monday arraignments at the federal courthouses in Central Islip and Norfolk, Virginia, except Mr. Zia, who remains a fugitive, authorities said.
If convicted, they could 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. The government also moved to forfeit five houses in New York.
The government forfeited the franchise rights to the 7-Elevens in Sag Harbor, Greenport, Cutchogue, Islip, Selden, Nesconset, Port Jefferson Station, Smithtown, Huntington and Islip Terrance, on Long Island, as well as in Norfolk and Portsmouth and two in Chesapeake, in Virginia. The 7-Eleven Inc. is taking over the stores, which will continue to be open.
“The 7-11 franchises seized today will be better known for their big fraud than their Big Gulp,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent-in-Charge James T. Hayes, Jr. said in a statement.
“From their 7-Eleven stores, the defendants dispensed wire fraud and identity theft, along with Slurpees and hot dogs,” said U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch in the statement, adding that the defendants essentially created a “modern-day plantation system.”
The identity theft victims hail from seven states, range in age from 8 to 78, and include a child, three dead people and a Coast Guard cadet, authorities said.
The Sag Harbor store was open on Tuesday. A man who answered the phone there referred all comment to 7-Eleven headquarters in Dallas, Texas.
A statement released by 7-Eleven said it is cooperating with federal authorities and is taking steps to assume corporate operation for the stores.
“All of our franchise owners must operate their stores in accordance with laws and the 7-Eleven franchise agreement,” it states. “7-Eleven Inc. will take aggressive actions to audit the employment status of all its franchisees’ employees.”