7-Eleven stores reopen and customers return

It was business as usual at the Cutchogue 7-Eleven Tuesday morning, where a steady stream of customers entered the store looking for their coffee fix.  There was, however, one notable exception: the employees some customers said they knew on a first name basis were nowhere in sight.

The 7-Eleven was among 10 Long Island locations, including the Greenport store, raided Monday by federal agents as part of a nationwide immigration and identity theft investigation. Eight male and one female 7-Eleven owners and managers were arrested for conspiring to steal the identities of more than 20 citizens, then hiring dozens of illegal immigrants to work at the 10 7-Eleven locations on Long Island and two more in Virginia, federal officials said.

The accused gave the illegal immigrants, who were of Pakistani and Filipino descent, false names to dodge authorities, stole portions of their wages and forced them to live in housing the defendants owned, according to a federal indictment.

Brenden Moschinger, who lives in Southold, said he stops at the Cutchogue 7-Eleven every day on his way to work. Today, he exited the store carrying a tray loaded with a frosted donut, coffee and a large soda.

“It’s kind of sad because they’re all hard workers,” Mr. Moschinger said of the store’s employees. “I guess nobody really knew they were working for almost nothing.”

“I haven’t seen [the owner] in a long time,” he said. “He didn’t seem like he would do that kind of thing, but I guess money gets the better of you sometimes.”

Wendy James, who lives in Cutchogue and has been coming to the store for the past 15 years, described the situation as “really sad.”

“I’m not sure what to think,” Ms. James said. “All these people were kind of our friends. I just wonder if any of the people were legal and if they will be coming back.”

The news also came as a surprise to customers who arrived at the store in Greenport just before it reopened Monday afternoon.

“Wow! That’s interesting,” remarked J.P Groeninger of Bohemia, who was in town to perform at the nearby Shakespeare in the Park. “The staff is always nice to me.”

Bill King of Orient called the news “wild.”

“The staff is pretty nice,” he said. “But I guess a couple of them were undocumented folks. There’s a lot of that around here.”

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