Evidence presented in federal court provides a look at the case prosecutors are building against one of the owners of Stash's Pizza.
Stavros Papantoniadis is facing one charge of forced labor related to the alleged treatment of a former employee who worked for him from 2001 to 2015.
Seven Former Workers Have Come Forward
The criminal complaint against Papantoniadis includes the experiences of six additional employees, all undocumented immigrants, who shared accounts of violence and harassment.
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Photos were submitted as evidence of an attack a former employee experienced when he quit in 2013.
According to the hospital record filed with it, the 29-year-old from Brazil said the scratches on his wrist were from his boss' nails and the bruising on his neck were from his shirt collar being pulled tight around his neck. Another employee who witnessed the altercation told Homeland Security investigators Papantoniadis lied to police who responded to the restaurant, falsely telling them that he hit the employee because he was holding a knife.
Referred to as Victim 5 in the criminal complaint, the employee told investigators he began working for Stash's pizzerias about a week after arriving in the United States. At the beginning, Victim 5 said he worked 50 to 60 hours per week. By the time he left, he was working approximately 72 hours per week and never received overtime compensation. When Victim 5 learned that his father-in-law died, he asked for time off, but Papantoniadis only permitted him to have a 15-minute break before returning to work, according to the criminal complaint.
Federal prosecutors presenting their case of forced labor, argue Papantoniadis had a practice of falsely reporting undocumented employees to law enforcement.
Another employee, referred to as Victim 7 in the criminal complaint, told investigators that in 2018, he contacted Papandoniadis to ask for permission to take a day off work. A few days later, Papantoniadis angrily confronted him about his request for a day off. After an argument, the employee left the restaurant intending to quit. As he drove away, he noticed Papantoniadis following him. Papantoniadis pulled his vehicle alongside Victim 7's car and appeared to be filming him with his cellphone's camera. He said Papantoniadis also made a gesture with his hands that looked like two wrists in handcuffs. This gesture scared him.
In an audio recording submitted as evidence, Papantoniadis is heard calling 911 in 2018, regarding another employee, claiming he hit his vehicle and took off.
"Hi, I'm on Route 1 in Norwood," he is heard saying. "Somebody just bumped me in the back. When I asked for information, he said, 'I don't have it,' and took off."
Norwood Police pulled over the employee, who was an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, and cited him for driving without a license and leaving the scene of a crash with property damage. The police report said Papantoniadis send police a picture of minor damage to his vehicle. An officer took pictures of the employee's vehicle and noted there was no damage noticeable.
When a police officer asked if the employee was involved in a motor vehicle accident, he said he was not.
Labor and Trafficking Law in Massachusetts
Pablo Carrasco, an attorney with Justice at Work, says this case is an extreme example of the power dynamic many undocumented workers face.
"Generally, when you have an undocumented worker, they have to provide for their family. So, it might not be threats of physical abuse, but there's just always this power dynamic at play," Carrasco said. "It keeps people who are in jobs where they have to work overtime and not getting paid overtime. They're not allowed to take sick time. They're often not paid minimum wage. This does happen a lot."
"We really want to do what we can to ensure workers feel confident in stepping up and reporting these kinds of violations in the same way that the brave workers did here in this Stash's Pizza case," said Jodi Sugerman-Brozan, deputy director of Boston's Worker Empowerment Cabinet.
She says city staff are working to provide a multilingual webinar to inform workers of their rights.
In regards to policy that could help address the issue of labor violations, she points to Boston's executive order on wage theft passed in 2014.
"Employers that have wage theft complaints and wage theft violations are reported to the licensing board and the licensing board from the executive order can use that information when making decisions about licensing," she said.
Massachusetts passed anti-trafficking legislation in 2011 that established new crimes of human trafficking for sexual servitude and forced labor, enticement of a child by means of electronic communication, and organ trafficking. It also mandated an inter-agency task force on human trafficking.
In 2013, then-Attorney General Martha Coakley released a report of the findings and recommendations of the task force.
"Not only is it difficult to actually identify a trafficking situation on its surface, getting victims to come forward to confirm suspicions is also a significant challenge," the report states. "A culture of fear is established by the employer in order to intimidate workers and exercise complete control over the workers' environment."
The report points to another challenge victims of labor trafficking face related to workplace disputes being categorized as contract negotiation issues or wage and hour violations, as opposed to labor trafficking victimization.
The report details a number of recommendations to combat labor trafficking, including efforts to raise awareness of the crime.
In 2019, the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office launched a webinar as part of efforts to address human trafficking for forced services, which includes labor.
The unnamed webinar presenter noted the crime is underreported, however the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline received more than 2,600 calls from or about Massachusetts from 2007 to through 2018.
In 2018, 70% of the reported cases were for sex trafficking, 12% for labor, 18% sex and labor or unspecified.
"These numbers do not reflect the number of incidents of trafficking or the number of trafficking victims. These are reports by victims or concerned members of the public," said the webinar presenter.
The presentation also shared statistics about the top venues for labor trafficking nationally: Domestic Work 33%, Agriculture 25%, Traveling Sales Crews 22%, Restaurants/Food Services 11%, Illicit Activities 9%
Workplace complaints can be reported to the Attorney General's Fair Labor Division.
The Fair Labor Hotline is (617) 727-3465.