Acting U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Joshua Levy addressed reporters today in a roundtable interview, providing updates on a myriad of cases his office is prosecuting or investigating in the areas of human trafficking, hate crimes, COVID fraud and other offenses.

Levy said the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office is the busiest in the country in terms of prosecuting human trafficking, both labor and sex trafficking. The Stash Pizza case, said Levy, is the latest such example.

A few floors below Levy’s office at the Moakley Federal Building, the second day in the trial of Stavros “Steve” Papantoniadis was beginning. Papantoniadis, 49, of Westwood, is the owner of Stash’s Pizza shops in multiple locations in the Greater Boston area. The U.S. Attorney’s office says Papantoniadis forced undocumented immigrants to work long hours and beat or threatened them with violence and deportation if they did not comply. Papantoniadis is charged with four counts of forced labor and three counts of attempted forced labor, that involved the exploitation of seven immigrants over a 15-year period.

“We are the busiest United States Attorney’s office in the country for human trafficking right now, not because Massachusetts has the most serious problem of human trafficking,” but is the most engaged, said Levy. “We have dedicated the resources now, and now we’re seeing the results of it.” A full time human trafficking office was established in 2022 under Levy’s predecessor, Rachael Rollins.

Levy said his office is even more engaged in fighting sex trafficking, and has 19 pending cases against men charged with trafficking minors. Levy said deterrence is a major component of their anti-sex trafficking operations. He offered some examples.

“We did a hotel sting operation where we had undercover operatives in Homeland Security put an ad up, offering the sex service of a minor, engaged in a dialog with people. People drove to a hotel in Waltham with the cash in their hand to have sex with 12-year-olds and 14-year-olds. That kind of deterrent message — I want every person who’s logging on a website and is thinking about buying a minor for sex, to be scared that there could be a fed on the other end of the line.”

Asked why his office has thus far declined to name the buyers in a high-end brothel case in the Cambridge-Boston area, Levy said that was no longer in his hands. He said his office had referred 28 individuals to the Middlesex district attorney’s office to bring state charges because federal charges could not be brought against the buyers in this particular case.

Among the other topics discussed during the wide-ranging briefing was the impact of artificial intelligence. Levy said he is worried and that AI will affect the work of the entire Department of Justice. Levy said he was particularly concerned about the use of AI in child pornography cases.

“I’m not an expert on child pornography law, but if there’s an artificial image, I think it’s going to raise serious questions of whether that’s prosecutable under federal law,” he said.

Levy also commented on organized hate groups in Massachusetts. In recent weeks, the New England Minutemen, a group associated with the neo-Nazi group NSC-131, has been demonstrating against migrants at a location in Lexington. Levy indicated that his office is aware of the activities of these and other organized hate groups.

“And we will bring cases ... if they’re violating people’s rights. But there’s a fine line,” he said. “The expression of ideas, we don’t prosecute. Criminal conduct we prosecute.”

Levy also addressed the investigation into the political activities of former U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins, which culminated in her forced resignation in 2023. Levy said that in the days and months after, his office was initially slow to rebound.

“It was a significant blow to the office when those reports came out,” he said. “That being said, the tenure of the former U.S. attorney is a smaller dot in the rearview mirror every day. … The office rebounded.”

Levy told reporters that he is keen to replace the “acting” in his title to simply, U.S. Attorney, but his nomination is being held up by Senator J.D. Vance, a Republican from Ohio. Levy said he is seeking confirmation to succeed Rollins because he “has a lot to add” but acknowledged that with the November election on the horizon that may not be in the cards.

He said the hold by Vance is not personal, but could impact the whole DOJ.

“What’s been explained to me is, Senator Vance has taken the position that he’s going to put a hold on Department of Justice nominations in protest over how the Department of Justice is carrying out its activities now. And I’m part of that,” he said. “I have no reason to believe that there’s anything about my nomination that’s raised concerns.”