The owner of Boston pizza chain Stash's Pizza, who was already facing federal charges on accusations he forced employees to work under threat of abuse and deportation, has been indicted on new forced labor charges, accused of abusing and threatening at least seven of his workers.
Stavros Papantoniadis, 48, was arrested earlier this month over allegations of a pattern of abuse that stretch back over a decade, including, according to the complaint filed in federal court, that he assaulted workers who were in the country without documentation and required them to work long hours for less than minimum wage or else he'd call immigration authorities on them.
He was originally charged with one count of forced labor. The new charges further expand on that alleged pattern of verbal and physical abuse, and say it involved at least seven employees, over the course of several years.
Prosecutors allege that Papantoniadis threatened his workers and forced them to work under excessive demands. Those demands included paying them low wages and making them work six or seven days or week, for shifts longer than eight hours, often without overtime or breaks.
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According to court documents, Papantoniadis targeted employees who lacked immigration status and routinely made threats to call immigration officials to have employees deported.
There are also allegations of physical violence, including multiple attacks against one employee, described as kicking the victim in the genitals, slapping and choking him, and hitting him so hard he lost teeth. When three other victims tried to quit, Papantoniadis allegedly attacked one of them, threatened another by telling him he knew where he lived, and filed a false police report on a third, leading them to be pulled over by police. At least four of the victims told investigators they feared that if they stopped working for him, he would hurt them or report them to immigration.
Papantoniadis currently owns Stash's Pizza locations in Dorchester and Roslindale, and previous locations in Norwood, Norwell and Randolph (Boston Pizza Company), Weymouth (Pacini’s Italian Eatery) and Wareham, Mass. Prosecutors allege that his actions against these workers led to significant financial benefit for him, as he could operate his business with fewer and cheaper workers, giving him an edge over his competitors.
Papantoniadis has been in federal custody since his arrest on March 16. If convicted, the charges of forced labor and attempted forced labor each provide for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to five years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000
In a previous court appearance, Papantoniadis' attorney called into question the motive of that victim, who wasn't named by prosecutors, and all the other ones, saying they were protected from deportation for cooperating with the federal investigation. With respect to the man's surgery, he said that was for a pre-existing condition; that man also told investigators Papantoniadis broke his teeth with a punch to the head, requiring him to get dentures, but the lawyer said the man had gum disease.
The deputy director of Boston's worker empowerment cabinet says all workers have rights and protections -- regardless of immigration status.
"It is horrific but unfortunately it is not uncommon," said Jodi Sugerman-Brozan. "We are inspired and we will do everything we can in the city to support the brave workers who came forward to shine a light on this situation and we are thankful to our partners in the Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security and US Attorneys Office who brought the charges."
Also in the previous court hearing, federal prosecutor presented evidence accusing Papantoniadis of engaging in fraud by obtaining a loan for a business he no longer owns, lying to obtain unemployment benefits and possessing sexually graphic videos, arguing he has an interest in humiliation and sadistic violence, though he is not facing charges for these accusations.
Defense attorney Carmine Lapore denied the allegations against Papantoniadis, accusing the former employees of lying about their experiences in order to obtain protection from deportation.
More than three dozen family members and supporters attended the hearing.
More on the Stash's Pizza arrest
Stash’s Pizza was open, despite the chain’s owner being in federal custody. The manager of the location in Dorchester, Jerry Skordas, defended Papantoniadis, telling NBC10 Boston on Friday the charges are "beyond shocking, beyond belief and just simply untrue."
Joel Gutierrez, in Spanish, said then that he's worked at the restaurant for three-and-a-half years and that, while, “the allegations are bad ... in this case at least, my coworkers and I have been treated very well.”
This is not the first time Papantoniadis has been in trouble for labor practices. The U.S. Department of Labor first filed suit in March 2017 against Stash's Pizza, Boston Pizza Co., and Weymouth Pizza Co and owners Stavros "Steve" Papantoniadis and Polyxeny "Paulina" Papantoniadis. The suit alleged that the defendants failed to pay proper overtime to 120 employees, misrepresented employees’ pay rates, and falsified time records between November 2013 and March 2016.
In 2018, the department obtained an injunction from the court to halt violations that continued to occur after the lawsuit's filing and enjoin the defendants from retaliating against employees and former employees and instructing them to lie to or not speak with WHD investigators. The Department's representatives visited each restaurant and read the injunction in the workers' native languages to ensure they understood the injunction's protections and their right to speak to the Department about workplace conditions.
In 2019, the business owners were ordered to pay more than $300,000 in back wages.
But the problems did not stop there. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office said it has received three complaints since 2019 against Stash’s Pizza, over wage and hour violations.
Workplace advocates have told NBC10 Boston that allegations of restaurant workers not being paid or being required to work longer without extra pay aren't uncommon. They noted that everyone in Massachusetts has workplace rights.