The owner of a Boston pizza chain was arrested Thursday for allegedly forcing an employee who was an undocumented immigrant to work for him for years while threatening him with deportation and subjecting him to repeated verbal and physical abuse.
Stavros "Steve" Papantoniadis, 47, of Westwood, owner of Stash's Pizza, is charged with one count of forced labor. He appeared in court Thursday and was detained pending a detention hearing on Monday morning.
Stash's Pizza has locations in Dorchester and Roslindale, and Papantoniadis formerly operated pizzerias in Norwood, Norwell, Randolph, Weymouth and Wareham.
Prosecutors allege that he physically abused and threatened employees for approximately 14 years, targeting victims who lacked immigration status, employing them at depressed wages and demanding that they work six or seven days a week, at times for longer than eight hours a day and often without breaks or overtime compensation. He also allegedly withheld wages in some cases.
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Papantoniadis is also accused of routinely threatening to have employees deported from the U.S., and using violence and threats to scare victims so they would comply with his workplace demands.
According to court documents, the victim worked at Stash's Pizza from 2001 to 2015, and during his time there Papantoniadis repeatedly made derogatory comments about the employee's Muslim religion. On one occasion when he missed work, Papatoniadis allegedly pushed him to the floor and made a derogatory remark. Another time, he kicked the employee in the genitals and when the employee sought medical treatment, Papantoniadis threatened to kill him or report him to immigration authorities if he did not return to work. On another occasion, Papantoniadis reportedly slapped and choked the employee and broke their teeth, causing him to have to wear dentures. The employee reportedly continued working at Stash's Pizza out of fear.
"Forced labor is a form of human trafficking. It is not a wage dispute. If someone is being compelled to work through the use of force, threats of force, or coercion, that is a federal crime," U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins said in a statement. “The allegations in this case are horrific. Nobody has the right to violently kick, slap, punch or choke anyone, and certainly not an employer to an employee. This case illustrates the manipulative, violent and abusive tactics some employers utilize for their own greed and financial gain. Labor trafficking is real and happening every day in Massachusetts and beyond."
Other former Stash's Pizza employees disclosed additional information about Papantoniadis' threats and violence, according to prosecutors. When one employee planned to quit, Papantoniadis allegedly told him he was not going to leave and attacked him, forcing him to run to safety in the parking lot. When another employee tried to quit, Papantoniadis reportedly made a false police report, saying that the employee hit his car and left the scene of the accident. That employee was later pulled over and cited by police.
"A lot of employers have a lot of power over employees who are terrified about saying anything to speak out against this type of mistreatment," labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan said Thursday night. "If you do work in this country, regardless of what your status is, you have the right to be paid under our laws."
A man inside the Dorchester location, who identified himself as a co-owner of the restaurant, told NBC10 Boston, "Everything is not true. It's all fake, and it'll be resolved in court."
The forced labor charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to 5 years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.