Feds Raid 7-Eleven Stores In Immigration Scam

fromWNYC

Authorities in New York have announced the arrest of eight men and one woman in what they say was a wide-ranging conspiracy to staff convenience stores with illegal immigrant workers and steal those workers' wages.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news. Authorities in New York have announced the arrest of eight men and one woman who operate several 7-Eleven convenience stores in New York and in Virginia. They're accused of staffing their stores with undocumented workers and then stealing those workers' wages.

From member station WNYC, Ilya Marritz has details.

ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: The alleged scheme worked like this: The owners of 14 different 7-Eleven franchises in New York and Virginia obtained stolen Social Security numbers - including some from dead people. They then used these bogus numbers to put undocumented immigrants on payroll. But when 7-Eleven sent out wage checks, the store owners kept most of the money for themselves.

The U.S. Attorney for New York's Eastern District, Loretta Lynch, says the exploitation of workers didn't end there.

LORETTA LYNCH: These immigrant workers were also required to live in homes owned by the defendants and pay their rent in cash. And they were directed to stay hidden if they wanted to keep their jobs.

MARRITZ: Many of the defendants were born in Pakistan; Lynch says their victims came from the same country.

A spokesman says 7-Eleven is cooperating with the authorities. But Jim Hayes, a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says the company's lax bookkeeping left it open to fraud.

JIM HAYES, SPECIAL AGENT, IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT: They made little to no effort to ensure the integrity of their payroll system, making it possible for the same Social Security number to be used for multiple employees.

MARRITZ: Over the past two years, Hayes says, federal law enforcement has stepped up investigations of businesses that employ immigrants without papers.

For NPR News, I'm Ilya Marritz in New York.

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