The owner of a chain of local pizza restaurants has been found guilty of forced labor charges.

Federal prosecutors in Boston argued that Stavros Papantoniadis, owner of Stash’s Pizza in Dorchester and Roslindale, forced more than a half dozen workers to labor long hours under threat of deportation and in the face of physical and mental abuse. On Friday, the jury convicted him on three counts of forced labor and three counts of attempted forced labor, and acquitted him on a fourth charge of forced labor.

Papantoniadis, who is from Westwood, has been held without bail since March 2023. His attorney Carmine P. Lepore told jurors that the workers who testified were all lying to advance their immigration statuses.

“These people seeking status in the country will lie and continue to scheme to get what they want,” Lepore told jurors Thursday morning. “Every single one of them came here unlawfully with full intention of staying here. Every single one of them are here lawfully now. … This was a pathway to get it.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Alexander Fogerty, in his closing arguments, recounted graphic testimony from alleged victims.
“He physically attacked and beat them. He called police to falsely report them and even prevent them from getting other jobs,” Fogerty told the jury. “The defendant was bigger than any of them. He even boasted he’d actually killed someone else before. He called them Brazilian monkeys. He held back wages and hid their checks.”

All seven workers in the case lacked legal immigration status when they worked at Papantoniadis’ food businesses. Prosecutors said that Papantoniadis intentionally hired undocumented immigrants and used that vulnerability to extract their labor — as long as 14 hours a day — without days off or overtime pay.

“A threat of deportation is an abuse of legal process and a threat of serious harm,” Fogerty told the jury.

Lepore, the defense attorney, reminded jurors of medical records from two alleged victims that he said cast doubt on their truthfulness and the federal prosecutors’ case.

He said that one alleged victim, who claimed Papantoniadis had kicked him in the groin, was already suffering from a urological disorder and pain in his genitals.

Lepore acknowledged that his client yelled and spoke rudely to his employees, but argued that Papantoniadis gave them raises for being hard workers and allowed them time off when they requested it.

More than 50 people watched Thursday’s closing arguments in the trial presided by Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV.

Papantoniadis will be sentenced at a later date. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

It is one of few such convictions in Massachusetts. A GBH News investigation in 2022 found there had been only one federal forced labor conviction in Massachusetts in more than two decades. Just last year, the state won its first known labor trafficking case since the passage of a state human trafficking law in 2012.

Anti-trafficking experts say labor trafficking is often hard to identify, although hidden in plain sight in construction sites, offices and restaurants.

“Labor trafficking cases can be hard to investigate and prosecute because they depend on survivor testimony, and many survivors fear reprisals when stepping forward,” Julie Dahlstrom, director of the Boston University Law Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking Program, said in a statement. The program provided counsel to one of the workers who testified. “For this reason, the outcome today is such a significant victory and a testament to the brave workers who came forward.”

Greater Boston Legal Services, which provided legal counsel to five of the immigrant workers who testified, said the jury’s verdict brought their clients a sense of relief.

“They’ve been incredibly traumatized and terrified by not only what happened while they were working at Stash’s but now the experience of presenting testimony in the trial. And they are certainly, incredibly relieved,” said Audrey Richardson, managing attorney for the organization’s employment law unit. “I also think that they are happy that this will provide a deterrent and protect others in the future.”

Updated: June 07, 2024
This story has been updated to include the jury's verdict and attorneys' reaction.