NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - Major developments in a federal immigration investigation involving 7-Eleven stores surfaced Thursday.
All three suspects in Virginia were scheduled to appear before a federal judge in Norfolk Thursday. The detention hearing for brothers Zahid and Shannawaz Baig was continued until Friday at 2 p.m. Their attorneys said they needed more time to review case precedents and to screen the men's wives as potential custodians for them, if they're allowed to go home until a trial.
When the brothers appeared back in court Friday, they waived their detention hearing and now will return to New York City to face charges. The waiving of their detention took all of five minutes.
The third local suspect faced a judge on Thursday, who offered a long list of reasons for Tariq Rana to be held in federal custody until trial by U.S. Marshals. His reasons included the nature and severity of offenses, size and scope of charges, unaccounted for money, and the fact that he's facing a 48 year maximum sentence plus deportation. The judge believed all of that makes Rana more of a flight risk.
Attorneys also noted that one person from New York involved in the multi-state scheme has already fled back to Pakistan.
And there was a discussion about potential witness tampering. There are more than 20 people ready to testify against the defendants, victims of identity theft and exploited workers.
The attorney for Zahid Baig said he looks forward to their day in court, issuing a statement to WAVY.com on Thursday saying, "We believe the evidence will show the truth at the appropriate time when my client has the opportunity to be tried by a jury of his peers."
Those were just a few of the developments in a day of many. There were unsealed indictments, revealing court filings and a national review of all 7-Eleven franchises by their parent company.
New Details Emerge
This case hinges on allegations of wire fraud, identity theft of even children and the deceased, smuggling immigrants, forcing them to work long hours and garnishing their wages. And court documents allege it was all at the hands of franchisees.
In what has been described as a modern-day plantation system, the government has moved to forfeit five houses in New York worth over $1.3 million believed to have been used to force undocumented workers to live inside.
"This is one of the largest criminal immigrant employment investigations ever conducted," said members of the US Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.
In court documents, Attorney Loretta Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York wrote, "The defendants used 7-Eleven as a platform from which to run elaborate criminal enterprises. From their 7-Eleven stores, the defendants dispensed wire fraud and identity theft, along with Slurpees and hot dogs."
"The 7-Eleven franchises seized will be better known for their big fraud than their Big Gulp," said Special Agent in Charge James Hayes.
The indictments charge that this scheme dates back to 2000. ICE agents have searched about 30 other 7-Eleven stores nationwide this week where they suspect similar activities to have taken place.
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