MANILA, Philippines—Filipinos exploited in an immigrant-worker fraud by a United States chain of convenience stores are fine and expected to serve as witnesses in a case involving one of their compatriots and seven other foreigners, according to the Philippine Embassy in Washington.
Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr. told the Inquirer on Wednesday that Philippine missions on the US east coast were in touch with American authorities to check on the Filipinos involved in Monday’s raid on 14 7-Eleven stores in New York and Virginia.
“We have been assured by US authorities that the Filipinos and other foreign nationals who were employed in the 14 7-Eleven stores in New York and Virginia have not been arrested, detained or charged but are considered victims of exploitation and will serve as witnesses,” Cuisia said from Kingston, Jamaica, where he presented his credentials as nonresident ambassador of the Philippines.
Some 18 Filipino and Pakistani immigrants known to have been hired by nine foreign nationals, including Filipino store owner Ramon Nanas, are in the custody of US authorities after the busting on Monday of a jobs racket that employed undocumented immigrants using stolen identities.
It remains unclear how many of the undocumented immigrants involved are Filipinos.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested and indicted Nanas, 49, of Great River, New York, seven other men and one woman for hiring up to 50 illegal immigrants since 2000 using stolen Social Security identities, including those of a child and three dead people.
They are also accused of stealing up to 75 percent of their employees’ wages and forcing them to rent space in houses they owned, charging them rent in cash, a situation that US Attorney Loretta Lynch described as a “modern day plantation system.”
Consul General to New York Mario de Leon said in a separate statement that the abused Filipinos are expected to take the witness stand during a hearing on July 18 at Eastern District Court in New York.
The US Department of Justice has confirmed to De Leon that the employees “were exploited, their wages stolen and were required to live in unregulated boarding houses,” the Philippine Embassy said.
Cuisia said the embassy would provide assistance to all Filipinos involved, including the arrested store owner.
“We will be extending consular and legal assistance to the Filipino nationals involved in the case, including Mr. Ramon Nanas, who was among the nine individuals indicted by US authorities for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, stealing identities and concealing and harboring illegal immigrants,” Cuisia said.
He said the embassy would continue to monitor developments in the case, as other 7-Eleven stores in other states are known to be involved in the fraud.