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06/17/2013

HSI arrests 7-11 franchise owners in illegal alien employment scheme

HSI arrests 7-11 franchise owners in illegal alien employment scheme
HSI arrests 7-11 franchise owners in illegal alien employment scheme
HSI arrests 7-11 franchise owners in illegal alien employment scheme
HSI arrests 7-11 franchise owners in illegal alien employment scheme
BROOKLYN, N.Y – Two indictments were unsealed Monday charging eight men and one woman from Long Island with conspiring to commit wire fraud, stealing identities and concealing and harboring illegal aliens employed at 7-11 Inc. franchise stores located throughout Long Island and Virginia. The charges, arrests and seizures resulted from an investigation 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 are Farrukh Baig, 57, and Bushra Baig, 49, a married couple who owned, co-owned or controlled 12 of the 7-11 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 7-11 franchise stores.

Through this scheme, the defendants allegedly hired dozens of illegal aliens, 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. If convicted, the defendants face 20 years in prison 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. In addition, all property used to facilitate the harboring of illegal aliens, together with all proceeds of the wire fraud conspiracy and alien harboring charges, are subject to forfeiture.

The victims of the identity theft hail from seven states, ranging in age from 8 to 78 years old, and include a child, three deceased people and a U.S. Coast Guard cadet. The defendants, allegedly together with others, caused the 7-11 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 7-11 franchise stores. Profits from those stores were shared by the defendants and 7-11.

"As set forth in the indictments, the defendants used 7-11 as a platform from which to run elaborate criminal enterprises. From their 7-11 stores, the defendants dispensed wire fraud and identity theft, along with Slurpees and hot dogs. In bedroom communities across Long Island and Virginia, the defendants not only systematically employed illegal immigrants, but concealed their crimes by raiding the cradle and the grave to steal the identities of children and even the dead. Finally, these defendants ruthlessly exploited their immigrant employees, stealing their wages and requiring them to live in unregulated boarding houses, in effect creating a modern day plantation system," stated U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta E. Lynch. "As this case shows, we are committed to preserving the rule of law and protecting our communities from the abuses of corrupt businessmen seeking to gain illegal advantage. I would like to thank our partners at HSI, New York State Police, Suffolk County Police and the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General for their hard work on this important investigation."

"The 7-11 franchises seized today will be better known for their big fraud than their Big Gulp. As alleged, the franchise owners knowingly and repeatedly employed an illegal workforce and abused and exploited that workforce for more than 13 years," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York. "This charged criminal scheme had a vast detrimental effect on both the employees who were overworked and cheated out of wages, as well as the more than 25 American citizens whose lives were upended by the theft of their identities in furtherance of the scheme."

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 (DHS). As set forth in court filings, the government has moved to forfeit the franchise rights to ten 7-11 stores in New York and four 7-11 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 thirty 7-11 franchise stores. The actions taken are the initial results of an ongoing investigation into the employment and exploitation of illegal aliens at 7-11 franchise stores nationwide.

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.