The owner of a chain of Massachusetts pizza restaurants was arrested Thursday for allegedly forcing a worker to labor long hours for little pay while being threatened with deportation and facing severe verbal and physical abuse.
Stavros Papantoniadis — who owns local restaurants called Stash’s Pizza in Dorchester and Roslindale — was charged later the same day with forced labor in U.S. federal court and detained pending a detention hearing scheduled for next week, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Charging documents detail harrowing accounts of alleged abuse. One victim claims he worked for Papantoniadis for nearly 14 years, 12 hours a day, seven days a week, without ever taking a vacation. He says he was kicked, slapped, choked and assaulted so severely he had to have his teeth removed and wear dentures. He says he believed he couldn’t leave because he was undocumented and worried his employer would report him to immigration authorities.
U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said in a press release that it is a federal crime to force someone to work through the use of “force, threats of force, or coercion.” She urged anyone with information about abuse to reach out to her office.
“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 said. “This case illustrates the manipulative, violent and abusive tactics some employers utilize for their own greed and financial gain.”
This is the first case of forced labor filed by the U.S. attorney’s office since Rollins took up the job last year. Since then, she has created a human trafficking unit focusing on sex and labor violations.
The problem of forced labor, often hidden in plain sight, has been the topic of an ongoing investigation by the GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting. GBH News reporters have spoken with restaurant and construction workers and domestic cleaners, among others, who have detailed working long hours for little or no pay, fearful of deportation, abuse and even homelessness.
“Forced labor is a form of human trafficking. It is not a wage dispute,’’ Rollins said. “Labor trafficking is real and happening every day in Massachusetts and beyond. We are working hard to expose this disturbing crime and to hold those that abuse and traffic people accountable.”
Papantoniadis, who lives in Westwood, could not be reached for comment. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. His detention hearing is scheduled for March 20 at 11:30 a.m.