Fast food workers hauled away by ICE

Two Savannah McDonald's were shut down temporarily Wednesday as some of their employees were handcuffed and taken away in a van.

It happened around lunchtime at the McDonald's off Ogeechee Road at Berwick, and the one at Ogeechee Road and Chatham Parkway.

"I had no idea what was going on," said Cara Lovins, a WTOC account executive, who happened to be at McDonald's on Chatham Parkway when police started pulling in the parking lot.

"I backed out and noticed they'd parked diagonally across the entrance. Then yet another one came, blocked the front entrance. And then it was like they came out of nowhere. They were everywhere."

Lovins said she left immediately, not wanting to get in the way of law enforcement.

It turns out the round up was a part of a nine-month investigation conducted by agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They said that some of the McDonald's managers stole American's identities, then turned around and sold them to prospective McDonald's employees who needed American citizenship.

"These U.S citizens unknowing to a certain extent have been victimized, their credits have been potentially impacted, their good names have been tarnished," said ICE Special Agent in Charge Jason Gialanella.

Wednesday's operation resulted in 14 arrests. Five are facing federal criminal charges for stealing identities; the other nine were arrested and charged for being in this country illegally.

For Lovins, this trip to McDonald's is one she won't forget. "It's very shocking. I had no idea that was taking place inside because it was just a normal day of business. Everybody was just as nice as can be as always," she said.

This investigation is ongoing. "There are things we still need to look at," Gialanella said. "Time will tell what comes out of the final investigation."

Copyright 2011 WTOC. All rights reserved.

Statement from Nina Gompels McDonald's Franchisee Owner, Savannah, Georgia:

"I am shocked and saddened by today's events. The alleged actions by these employees in no way reflect the values of my restaurant organization.  I care very much about my customers and the community and take matters like these seriously. My organization will continue to work with the authorities."