NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - Three local 7-Eleven franchise managers appeared in Norfolk Federal Court Monday to face charges in connection to a probe into human smuggling, identity theft and money laundering.
The investigation, led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), involves allegations that store owners or managers helped smuggle workers into the U.S. from Pakistan. It is the largest case of criminal immigration forfeiture in the Department of Homeland Security's history. The indictments were unsealed Monday and the nine defendants were set to appear in New York and Norfolk courts hours later.
Zahid Baig, of Chesapeake, and his brother Shannawaz Baig, of Virginia Beach, chose to have their trials in Norfolk rather than be extradited to New York when they faced a judge Monday. The third local defendant, Tariq Rana, a Pakistan citizen living in Chesapeake, was advised during Monday's arraignment that he has the right to contact the Embassy. All three are scheduled to appear in a Norfolk court again Thursday afternoon for a preliminary hearing. The Baig brothers and Rana are charged with conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens, harboring illegal aliens, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. If convicted, the defendants face more than 20 years in prison.
Family members of the accused declined comment outside federal court Monday.
The indictment states the defendants employed more than 50 illegal immigrants at 14 7-Eleven franchise stores in Long Island and Virginia. These employees were provided 20 stolen identities of U.S. citizens, including those of a child, three dead people and a Coast Guard cadet, to conceal their scheme. The identity theft victims are from seven states.
The defendants reportedly stole a large portion of the illegal immigrants' wages and also required the employees live in homes owned by the defendants. The workers had to pay rent in cash to the defendants.
The scheme reportedly profited more than $182 million since 2000 from the 7-Eleven franchise stores.
Vincent Picard, a spokesman for ICE, confirmed the four stores being inspected in Virginia are in Norfolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake. According to the indictment, the locations of the four Hampton Roads stores are:
- Norfolk - 1088 West 26th Street
- Portsmouth - 725 London Blvd.
- Chesapeake - 4424 Portsmouth Blvd.
- Chesapeake - 4701 Taylor Road
The local stores involved in the scheme are still open for business, while others in New York were shut down by federal authorities.
The 7-Eleven company said in a statement that it has been cooperating with federal authorities: "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."
WAVY News 10's Anne McNamara is uncovering local developments in this multi-state investigation. Look for the latest throughout the day on WAVY News 10 on air and on WAVY.com.
A Suffolk house fire displaced a family of seven Wednesday morning.
An Oscar Smith football player was named the 2013-2014 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year Wednesday.
A building at Norfolk State University has been evacuated due to a gas leak.