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Criminal complaint in forced labor case details allegations of harrowing abuse, intimidation

An exterior of Stash's Pizza at 612 Blue Hill Ave. Owner Stavros "Steve" Papantoniadis, 47, made an initial appearance Thursday in US District Court in Boston on a charge of forced labor.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

They hailed from North Africa, Brazil, and El Salvador, seeking work that would pay them despite their undocumented immigration status.

While the seven alleged victims identified in the criminal complaint unsealed Thursday against Stavros “Steve” Papantoniadis came from different countries, they had one thing in common, according to federal authorities: They endured relentless abuse and intimidation from their boss, who now stands accused of forcing them to work brutally long hours without proper compensation, often under threats of reporting them to immigration authorities if they failed to meet his demands.

Papantoniadis, 47, a Westwood resident who owns Stash’s Pizza in Dorchester and formerly owned pizza parlors in several other communities, made an initial appearance Thursday in US District Court in Boston on a forced labor count. He did not enter a plea and was ordered held pending a detention hearing Monday.


The federal public defender who represented him Thursday declined to comment; Papantoniadis indicated that he’s retaining private counsel, records show. A new lawyer hadn’t filed an appearance as of early Friday afternoon, and an attorney who’s represented Papantoniadis previously didn’t immediately return a call.

What follows are allegations of abuse by seven former migrant employees of Papantoniadis, identified in court documents as Victims 1 through 7.

Victim 1: He came to the US in 1999 from north Africa and worked for Papantoniadis for 14 years, putting in as much as 119 hours per week without overtime compensation, according to an affidavit filed in the case by special agent Stacy Fleischmann of Homeland Security Investigations.

The man at one point became a manager for Papantoniadis, who regularly insulted his religion by calling him an “[expletive] Muslim,” the affidavit said.

Papantoniadis “in or around” 2007 allegedly kicked the man in his genitals with such force that he needed surgery, according to the affidavit, which said the man had a catheter implanted and that the pain continued to bother him until at least 2021.


At other times, the man alleged, Papantoniadis struck him in the face, choked him, broke his glasses, and “broke his upper and lower teeth,” forcing the man to get dentures, the affidavit said. Records indicate the man “lost or had all of his teeth extracted” in 2008, according to the filing.

The affidavit said medical records “from Massachusetts General Hospital confirm that he had lost or had all of his teeth extracted as of September 2008,” though the filing didn’t indicate whether the records linked the teeth removal to the alleged abuse.

Victim 2: The Salvadoran national worked for Papantoniadis from July 2013 through November 2015 and considered filing a lawsuit against his former boss for alleged “employment discrimination based on Victim 2′s sexual orientation,” the affidavit said.

He worked seven days a week and was paid $11 per hour, a rate occasionally bumped as high as $14, though the man didn’t receive overtime pay, nor was he paid for all his hours, the filing said.

“PAPANTONIADIS used video surveillance to monitor the restaurants remotely,” the affidavit said. “If he saw Victim 2 sitting down to eat or drink coffee, PAPANTONIADIS would call Victim 2 to reprimand him.”

At one point, the filing said, Victim 2 needed surgery on his toe, and doctors told him to rest afterward, but he was back at work soon after the procedure, since Papantoniadis had accused him of faking his condition.


“Victim 2 worked in sandals because he could not put his surgically repaired toe in his work boots,” the filing said.

The man told investigators Papantoniadis would mention the immigration status of undocumented workers whenever they requested time off and would end such talks by saying, “[Expletive] immigrants, I’m not here for you.”

When the man wanted to work at another pizza place in Somerville, the filing said, Papantoniadis warned that he knew where the man lived and that he and his brother drove without licenses.

Papantoniadis also allegedly told the man “he knew a lot of police officers” who would believe whatever he said “because he was a businessman. ... PAPANTONIADIS also stated words to the effect of, ‘I also don’t know if you are a man or what you are, but I am a man and I am a citizen of this country.’”

The man took that remark to be a derogatory comment about his sexual orientation.

“Victim 2 is still afraid of PAPANTONIADIS,” the affidavit said. “Victim 2 moved to a new home because he knew that PAPANTONIADIS knew his prior address.”

Victim 3: The Brazilian national worked for Papantoniadis from 2009 through about 2017.

“He was not allowed to take breaks,” the filing said, adding that he was never paid overtime despite working 12- and 13-hour shifts, six days per week.

When the Department of Labor launched a prior investigation into Papantoniadis’s wage practices, the affidavit said, he called Victim 3 “a snitch” for sharing information with the DOL, which filed suit against Papantoniadis in 2017. He and Polyxeny “Paulina” Papantoniadis two years later agreed to pay $330,000 in back wages and other damages to 150 current and former employees, DOL said at the time.


“Victim 3 saw PAPANTONIADIS violently attack” someone else when they tried to quit in July 2013, the affidavit said. “PAPANTONIADIS’s violence had a profound impact on Victim 3, causing him to fear PAPANTONIADIS and the consequences of attempting to quit.”

Victim 4: The Salvadoran national worked for Papantoniadis between May 2013 and September 2016, according to the affidavit.

“For 1 year, Victim 4 worked 365 consecutive days,” the filing said. “PAPANTONIADIS refused to give Victim 4 a day off.”

She was paid $9 an hour and generally worked 49 to 50 hours per week with no overtime; after a year she received an extra dollar per hour, but Papantoniadis often omitted hours from her check, the filing said.

“When she would confront him in person, PAPANTONIADIS make veiled references to her immigration status,” the affidavit said. “When PAPANTONIADIS was mad at the employees, he would boast about his ability to call immigration authorities on the employees.”

The woman ultimately was forced to create a ruse to get out of her employment, telling Papantoniadis her doctor ordered her to stop working during her pregnancy and “falsely” reassuring him that she would return after the birth, the filing said.


Victim 5: The Brazilian national left Papantoniadis’s employ in August 2013 after about 10 arduous months, according to the affidavit, putting in up to 72 hours per week without overtime compensation.

When he asked for time off after the death of his father-in-law, the filing said, Papantoniadis “only permitted him to have a 15-minute break before returning to work.”

Eventually the man decided to quit because he’d found a better job.

An enraged Papantoniadis “told Victim 5 that Victim 5 was not going to leave” and allegedly attacked the man, sending him running for safety in the parking lot. Later, a police officer accompanied the man back to the restaurant so he could retrieve his cell phone and other belongings.

Another former worker, the affidavit said, indicated to investigators that Papantoniadis “lied to police about the altercation by falsely telling police that he ... only hit Victim 5 because Victim 5 was holding a knife.”

Victim 6: The Brazilian national began working for Papantoniadis in June 2013.

“PAPANTONIADIS told Victim 6 that he (PAPANTONIADIS) killed someone in a car accident,” the filing said. “Victim 6 stated that PAPANTONIADIS ‘put it out there’ that he had spent time in jail. As a result, PAPANTONIADIS told Victim 6 not to mess with him.”

(Separate court filings in Suffolk Superior Court indicatethat Papantoniadis pleaded guilty in 1998 to motor vehicle homicide and leaving the scene of an accident causing personal injury or death. He was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail with one year to serve and the balance suspended, records show.)

About a year after working for Papantoniadis, including sometimes opening one of his restaurants for no pay on days off, he quit but simply stopped clocking in, rather than telling his boss, the federal affidavit said.

“Around this time, PAPANTONIADIS started threatening Victim 6 that he would call the police and immigration authorities,” the filing said. “Then, PAPANTONIADIS offered to pay Victim 6 $14.00 to $16.00 per hour. Victim 6 agreed to return to work because he did not have another job.”

Victim 6 also reported sexual harassment by Papantoniadis, who he said would frequently touch him inappropriately, call him an anti-gay slur for being friends with a gay co-worker, and once asked if he would drink his bodily fluids if Papantoniadis deposited them in a glass, the filing said.

The man eventually quit and sued Papantoniadis in small claims court for his final paycheck.

Once Papantoniadis got wind of the lawsuit, the filing said, he “began sending Victim 6 text messages stating, ‘I’m going to kill you’; ‘I’ll call the police and Immigration’; and ‘I’m going to send people to your house.’”

The man ultimately accepted a $400 check despite believing he was owed between $800 and $900, the affidavit said, and then changed his telephone number and moved.

Victim 7: The Salvadoran national worked for Papantoniadis from 2013 through February 2018 at a Norwood restaurant that has since been sold, generally working up to 70 hours per week with no overtime pay.

“Victim 7 found his job very stressful,” the affidavit said, adding that the man indicated another Stash’s worker had been arrested and deported in 2016 or 2017. “Victim 7 believes this employee had just given notice of his intent to quit working at Stash’s Pizzerias when he was arrested.”

The affidavit said that in early February 2018, the man left the Norwood restaurant planning to quit after an argument with Papantoniadis over a requested day off.

Papantoniadis allegedly followed the man, pulling his vehicle “alongside Victim 7′s car and appeared to be filming Victim 7 with his cell phone’s camera,” the affidavit said. “PAPANTONIADIS also made a gesture with his hands that looked like two wrists in handcuffs.”

He didn’t stop there, according to the filing.

Papantoniadis called 911 and reported to a Norwood police dispatcher that Victim 7 had rear-ended his car, even though Victim 7 had left the establishment first and Papantoniadis was following him, the affidavit said.

He gave the dispatcher Victim 7′s license plate number and claimed the man “took off” after striking him when he asked for information. But Papantoniadis initially balked when the dispatcher asked him to come into the station to give a statement, the affidavit said.

He eventually did provide a statement at the station, however, during which time he informed police that Victim 7 was one of his employees.

“Based on my review of the 9-1-1 call and my training and experience, PAPANTONIADIS’s version of events is not credible,” the affidavit said. “First, according to PAPANTONIADIS’s account, Victim 7 left first but still struck PAPANTONIADIS’ vehicle from behind, which does not make sense,” and Papantoniadis “failed to disclose to the 9-1-1 dispatcher that he knew the driver of the vehicle that allegedly struck his truck.”

In fact, the affidavit said, “he was reluctant to go to the police station to provide additional information, and only did so when the dispatcher pressed him to come in to make a full report. Finally, PAPANTONIADIS’s conduct is consistent with his practice of using and threatening to use law enforcement to exert pressure on undocumented employees.”

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.