Long before prosecutors began documenting what they allege was a harrowing campaign of abuse against his immigrant workers, the owner of the Stash’s pizza shops had other run-ins with the law.
Stavros “Steve” Papantoniadis of Westwood was sentenced to two and a half years in prison in 1998 for killing a man in a hit-and-run crash, according to court records. Nearly two decades later, he was cited for using two underage workers as delivery drivers for his stores, and then in 2019, he was ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay to his employees.
Papantoniadis now faces federal criminal charges of forced labor, with the documents from prosecutors detailing a concerted effort to exploit and abuse his employees, many of them undocumented immigrants from Brazil, El Salvador, and North Africa.
Court filings depict him as a boss with a volatile and violent temper who would scream at or even assault workers when they refused shifts or said they were quitting.
The undocumented immigrants who worked for him received possibly the scariest threat of all: potential deportation.
The abuse Papantoniadis allegedly inflicted on his staff enabled him to obtain “a substantial financial benefit and advantage over other businesses in the local pizza market,” investigators wrote in a federal affidavit unsealed Thursday.
“He could and did operate the Stash’s Pizzerias with fewer and cheaper workers over whom he exercised significant control, all of which reduced his businesses’ labor and operating costs,” prosecutors said in the affidavit.
One man told investigators he was assaulted several times, including one instance in 2007 when Papantoniadis allegedly kicked him in the genitals and he went to the hospital for treatment. The man further alleged Papantoniadis slapped him in the face and broke his glasses, choked him, struck his ear and mouth, and broke his upper and lower teeth, resulting in him now wearing dentures.
Papantoniadis, 47, did not enter a plea in US District Court in Boston on Thursday and is currently being held without bail on a federal forced labor charge, with a detention hearing slated for Monday.
A public defender who represented Papantoniadis Thursday declined to comment, and Papantoniadis indicated during the hearing that he plans to retain his own counsel. A lawyer who has represented him previously didn’t return a call seeking comment Friday.
No one answered at Papantoniadis’s listed address in Westwood Friday morning.
Papantoniadis had previously owned seven shops in Boston and surrounding suburbs, but sold them and owned two at the time of his arrest, one in Dorchester and the other in Roslindale.
Legal filings in Suffolk Superior Court indicate that in 1998 Papantoniadis pleaded guilty to charges of motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation and leaving the scene of an accident causing personal injury or death.
He received a 2½-year jail term with one year to serve and the balance suspended, records show. His release date wasn’t immediately available Friday.
Robert M. Griffin, who prosecuted the motor vehicle homicide case, said in a phone interview Friday that Papantoniadis was behind the wheel of a Mercedes Benz sedan that fatally struck Jose D. Romero, 39, as he crossed Tremont Street in Boston’s South End on a dark, rainy night.
According to the federal affidavit unsealed Thursday, Papantoniadis alluded to his time in jail as a kind of warning to one employee, a Brazilian national identified in court papers as Victim 6, to not cross him.
“PAPANTONIADIS told Victim 6 that he ... killed someone in a car accident,” according to the affidavit. “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.”
On Friday at the Stash’s Pizza location at 612 Blue Hill Ave., Jerry Skordas, who said he’s been the “very proud manager” of the Dorchester and Roslindale spots since 2008, called the forced labor allegations “beyond shocking.”
“The fact that he was abusive? Absolutely not. We treat everybody like family here,” said Skordas, 50, of West Roxbury. “Those arguments happen once in the blue moon, in the heat of the moment, and they’re squashed in 30 seconds.”
In 2017, investigators with the US Department of Labor accused Papantoniadis of violating federal minimum wage, overtime, and child labor laws, as he allegedly employed two teenagers, ages 16 and 17, as delivery drivers. No one under 18 may drive on the job if it involves time-sensitive work such as delivering pizzas, according to federal law.
Skordas said he’s never seen Papantoniadis act violently toward employees and accused the employees of making baseless allegations for money.
”I haven’t seen it once in 15 years,” Skordas said. “One zillion percent no, it’s not true. And the truth will come out soon enough.”
The Dorchester location on Blue Hill Avenue was open for business Friday afternoon, with a trickle of customers flowing in and out around lunchtime. Skordas said the Stash’s Roslindale location was closed Friday because federal agents took the computers out of the building and is expected to remain closed until Monday.
Skordas said he and Papantoniadis last spoke Tuesday afternoon.
“I feel naked without him; it doesn’t feel the same,” Skordas said.
Papantoniadis’s mother was also behind the counter, but Skordas refused to let her speak with a Globe reporter, saying she was too distraught.
“It’s just devastating for the kids and for his mother,” he said.
Customers milling inside and near the Dorchester location had mixed reviews of the neighborhood spot. One regular customer, who introduced himself only as Mike, said he’s been getting pizza from Stash’s since he was a teenager.
”I love this place, their food’s quality,” he said. “But I guess you never know what goes on behind closed doors.”
The affidavit in the criminal case alleges that Papantoniadis didn’t deride and abuse just undocumented workers.
One former worker, a US citizen identified as Witness B, told investigators she was addicted to heroin when she worked for Papantoniadis.
“As a result, PAPANTONIADIS would call her a ‘crackhead’ and say that ‘she would never be anything,’” the affidavit said. “One day when she was working in the front of one of the restaurants, PAPANTONIADIS got angry with her and punched her in the chest in front of other employees.”
Another US citizen who formerly worked for Papantoniadis, identified as Witness C, told investigators he knew she worked 70 to 80 hours per week to support her drug-dependent parents, and that she had reported to Boston police in 2015 he threatened to harm her during an argument.
Papantoniadis, the affidavit said, allegedly told her, “get it through your [expletive] head I have no problem catching a case over you!”
Witness C also indicated that when the undocumented employees complained about not getting their full pay, he would respond by saying, “Tell them to go [expletive] themselves.”
The ordeal of Papantoniadis’s undocumented workers, as alleged by authorities, is all too common, said Rachel M. Self, a Boston immigration lawyer.
“Unfortunately, this case is a window into the experience of many undocumented people in our country,” Self said in a statement. “Adults and children alike often find themselves at the mercy of criminals who take advantage of weaknesses in our legal system to exploit whoever they can. The failure of the Federal government to provide people with expeditious work authorization while in the U.S. leaves them extremely vulnerable to this exploitation.”
Emily Sweeney, Katie Johnston, Jeremiah Manion, and Tonya Alanez of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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