Several New York and Virginia 7-Elevens were raided Monday after federal investigators discovered the franchises were harboring undocumented workers, furnishing them with stolen identities and forcing them to work 100 hours a week.
"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," said Loretta Lynch, a federal prosecutor.
Agents led the nationwide sweep after an employee at the Suffolk County 7-Eleven tipped off police.
A total of 18 undocumented Pakistani immigrants were forced to live in boarding houses and pay rent to their employers. Many of the store owners and managers were arrested and now face charges of wire fraud, identity theft and harboring illegal immigrants.
The Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security are expected to investigate 40 other 7-Eleven stores in seven other states in what is one of the largest criminal immigrant employment investigations ever led by the department.
"The 7-Eleven franchises seized today will be better known for their big fraud than their Big Gulp," said James Hayes, head of the New York Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Office of Investigation.
Margaret Chabris, director of Corporate Communications for 7-Eleven, said the company is aware of the federal action and will cooperate with authorities, though she declined to comment further.