BOSTON — The owner of a Boston-based pizza chain who allegedly physically abused and threatened his employees for more than a decade, kicking out the teeth of one victim and filing a fake police report that resulted in the arrest of another, appeared in federal court on Monday.
Federal investigators say Stavros Papantoniadis, a 47-year-old Westwood resident and owner of Stash’s Pizza, forced at least 7 undocumented workers to do their jobs in inhumane conditions while threatening to deport them.
In the testimony, we learned new details about what federal investigators say was going on in this pizza shop business for years. After court, some of the defendants’ friends and one of his employees spoke to Boston 25 News. “Give the guy a chance. He’s innocent until proven guilty,” a friend said.
Papantoniadis was arrested last week on a charge of one count of forced labor, according to United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins.
Investigators say Papantoniadis allegedly targeted victims who lacked immigration status, employed them at depressed wages and demanded that they work, in most cases, six to seven days per week, at times for far more than eight hours per day and often without breaks or overtime compensation, court paperwork stated.
Charging documents show that Papantoniadis threatened to have employees deported from the United States and used violence and threats to scare victims and ensure that they complied with his excessive workplace demands.
“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,” Rollins said in a statement. “We allege that Mr. Papantoniadis compelled and threatened victims to work against their will using fear, violence and the threat of deportation.”
One victim who worked at Stash’s Pizza from 2001 to 2015 told the feds that Papantoniadis repeatedly made derogatory comments about his religion, violently attacked him several times, including an incident in which Papantoniadis pushed him to the ground and called him a “f****** Muslim” for missing a day of work.
The same victim also claimed that Papantoniadis kicked him in the genitals and then threatened to kill him for seeking out medical help. Additionally, Papantoniadis is accused of slapping, choking, and kicking the victim in the teeth, causing him to get fitted for dentures.
“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,” Rollins added. “This case illustrates the manipulative, violent, and abusive tactics some employers utilize for their own greed and financial gain.”
Another victim named in the documents alleged that Papantoniadis attacked him and chased him out into the parking lot after revealing plans to quit his job. When a third victim attempted to quit, Papantoniadis allegedly made a fake police report, falsely stating that the victim had hit his car and left the scene of the accident after leaving Stash’s Pizza’s Norwood location. As a result, the victim was pulled over and cited by police.
Matthew B. Millhollin, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New England, described Papantoniadis’s pattern of behavior as someone who routinely “created a climate of fear” for those who worked for him.
A manager at the Dorchester and Roslindale pizza shops testified in his boss’s defense at Monday’s probable cause and detention hearing.
“[I’m] looking forward to justice prevailing,” said Jerry Skordas. “[They are] making it up. Absolutely.”
Skordas has worked for Stash Pizza since 2008 and said he never witnessed the relentless abuse and intimidation portrayed by prosecutors.
“I just know that Steve is an amazing person. I’m blessed to know him for so many years,” he said.
Prosecutors are indicating that more charges could be coming in the investigation.
They’re alleging that Papantoniadis fraudulently received a $500,000 pandemic relief loan for a pizza shop he already sold.
Federal investigators also accuse him and his wife of fraudulently obtaining unemployment benefits during the pandemic while they were vacationing in Aruba.
Prosecutors called him a danger to the victims and the community and a flight risk.
A judge is still reviewing their request to hold Papantoniadis in jail without bail and has not yet made a decision.
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