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DALLAS -- The federal probe into alleged illegal immigration-related activities at 7-Eleven Inc. locations has expanded to 40 convenience stores in seven states.
As CSNews Online reported yesterday, federal authorities initially seized 14 7-Eleven stores in Long Island and Virginia, charging nine owners and managers of harboring and hiring illegal immigrants and paying them using fake social security numbers.
Federal authorities are now saying that undocumented workers were forced to work 100 hours a week for a small percentage of their wages.
Eight of the nine defendants were arrested and held without bail. Their next court appearance is July 15.
"The 7-Eleven franchisees seized will be better known for their big fraud than their Big Gulp," James Hayes, special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Office of Investigations in New York, told ABC News.
Today, authorities are investigating an additional 26 7-Eleven locations for similar acts. These stores are located in Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York.
"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," federal prosecutor Loretta E. Lynch told the news outlet.
The alleged illegal conduct has gone on since at least 2000, federal authorities claim.
In a statement released yesterday, 7-Eleven said it 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," the company said. "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."
Also, the National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisees today issued its own statement. "Members of the National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisees pledge to observe the highest standards of competency, fairness and integrity in the conduct of their relations as franchised owners of 7-Eleven stores," the statement reads. "Every franchisee is an independent contractor and solely controls the operation of their store(s). The National Coalition expects every member of our organization to operate their stores in an ethical and honest manner, in accordance with all U.S. laws and consistent with the 7-Eleven franchise agreement "
In addition to arresting 7-Eleven owners and managers, federal authorities located at least 18 undocumented workers who could face deportation, ABC News reported.
Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc. operates, franchises or licenses more than 10,110 7-Eleven stores in North America.