NEW YORK (AP)--Federal authorities say they've raided 7-Eleven stores in Virginia, including some in Hampton Roads, and in New York as part of an investigation into human smuggling, identity theft and money laundering.
Three people - 52-year-old Zahid Baig of Chesapeake, 62-year-old Shannawaz Baig of Va. Beach and 34-year-old Tariq Rana of Chesapeake - were due in Norfolk Federal Court Monday afternoon on charges of wire fraud conspiracy, identity theft and alien harboring charges. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of conspiracy.
"Obviously, we knew just from being neighbors with them that they were involved with 7-Eleven. When our kids or something would play out in they yard, they would, you know, bring Slurpees and things like that," said Josh Feldman who lives next door to Zahid Baig in Las Gaviotas in Chesapeake.
Feldman told 13News Baig and his family moved to the home on Aguila Drive about 15 months ago.
"We're very surprised by it. It certainly got the phone tree operating throughout the neighborhood in the morning with all the police out there. Everybody was calling around to try to figure out exactly what it was," Feldman said.
The manager of a store on W. 26th Street in Norfolk was the target of Homeland Security’s investigation into the human smuggling, a source close to the investigation told 13News.
The source also stated that Virginia stores were not raided, just questioned and that agents with ICE and the Dept. of Homeland Security had gone to the Norfolk location to investigate.
4 stores in Hampton Roads are in Norfolk, Chesapeake and Portsmouth. They're located at 725 London Blvd., Portsmouth and owned by Wajiha Razzak; 4701 Taylor Road in Chesapeake owned by Raj Masand; 1088 W. 26th Street in Norfolk owned by Shagufta Baig and 1510 Brambletown Ave. in Norfolk, owned by Raj Masand, sources close to the investigation revealed.
The son of the franchisee of the Brambleton Avenue store told 13News he spoke to the federal investigators and told them his store had no illegal immigrants.
"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 United States Attorney Loretta Lynch.
The inquiry involves allegations that store owners helped smuggle workers into the U.S. from Pakistan.
ABC News says nine people have been charged with running what they call a modern day plantation. Illegal workers were given stolen identities and forced to work 100 hour weeks, paid for a fraction of it and forced to pay rent to their employers to live in boarding houses.
Federal authorities said they tried to conceal the immigrants' employment by stealing the identities of about two dozen people -- including those of the child, the dead and a Coast Guard cadet -- and submitting the information to the 7-Eleven payroll department.
ABC News added that the investigation started after a couple of the employees tipped police.
In all, 18 illegal workers were found and all could be deported.
The 7-Eleven company says in a statement that it is cooperating with federal authorities.
A source with knowledge of the investigation said Wednesday that there are now six stores in Virginia, including the four in Hampton Roads, that are now operating under the management of 7-Eleven, Inc.
Today the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn announced it had filed two indictments related to alleged wrongdoing by independent 7-Eleven franchisees.
7-Eleven, Inc. has cooperated with the government’s investigation. All of our franchise owners must operate their stores in accordance with laws and the 7-Eleven franchise agreement.
7-Eleven, Inc. will take aggressive actions to audit the employment status of all its franchisees’ employees.
7-Eleven, Inc. is taking steps to assume corporate operation of the stores involved in this action so we can continue to serve our guests.
We continue to cooperate with federal authorities in this matter.