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Local pizza chain owner, detained on forced labor charges, faces new indictment
Local pizza chain owner, detained on forced labor charges, faces new indictment
Local pizza chain owner, detained on forced labor charges, faces new indictment

Published on: 04/12/2024

Description

RANDOLPH - The former owner of three South Shore pizzerias, who is currently detained on federal forced labor charges, has been indicted again in federal court on two charges of wire fraud. Officials say he defrauded the U.S. Small Business Administration of $500,000 in COVID-relief money.

Stavros "Steve" Papantoniadis, 48, of Westwood, owned Stash's Pizza in Dorchester and Roslindale, Boston Pizza Co. in Norwell and Randolph and Pacini's Italian Eatery in Weymouth.

He is currently being held without bail on charges he overworked and underpaid employees lacking immigration status through a combination of threats and actual violence, according to court documents.

The fraud charges relate to Boston Pizza Co. on North Main Street in Randolph, which Papantoniadis sold in April 2021, according to court documents.

The indictment alleges that Papantoniadis applied for almost $1 million through the U.S. Small Business Administration's Economic Injury Disaster Loan program for the North Main Street pizzeria in November 2021, about seven months after he sold the business.

On Dec. 4, 2021, the Small Business Association denied Papantoniadis' application. He then had a certified public accountant send the government agency a "certificate of good standing and/or tax compliance," the indictment says. On Dec. 28, the loan was approved, and on Jan. 4, 2022, Papantoniadis received $499,900 from the U.S. Treasury.

Records from the Secretary of the Commonwealth show that 1225 North Main St LLC, the company controlling the pizzeria, was canceled as a business entity on Sept. 29, 2021.

On the loan application, Papantoniadis falsely claimed 18 employees worked at the closed business, the indictment alleges.

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Under U.S. law, wire fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment, according to Cornell's Legal Information Institute. If the violation occurs during a presidentially declared emergency, penalties could include up to 30 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000,000.

Papantoniadis' attorney, Carine Lepore, did not respond to a request for comment.

As part of the March 2020 CARES Act, Congress expanded this program to provide up to $2 million to small businesses harmed by the pandemic. The funds could only be used for certain expenses, such as fixed business debts and payroll, according to the indictment.

The loan program distributed low-interest, fixed-rate, long-term loans to help small business owners "overcome the effects of the pandemic by providing working capital to meet operating expenses," the agency's website says.

The Small Business Administration approved over 3.9 million loans totaling over $378.4 billion, according to an April 2023 agency report.

According to the agency's Office of Inspector General, "the allure of 'easy money' in this pay and chase environment attracted an overwhelming number of fraudsters to the programs." A white paper published in June 2023 found potential fraud in the program totaling more than $136 billion, or 33 percent of total disbursements.

Last year, prosecutors alleged that over the course of several years, Papantoniadis targeted victims who lacked legal immigration status, employed them at depressed wages and demanded they work, in most cases, six or seven days a week, at times for far more than eight hours per day and often without breaks or overtime compensation. Papantoniadis also allegedly withheld wages.

He is also accused of routinely threatening to have employees deported from the United States and using violence and threats to scare victims and make sure that they complied with his demands.

According to court documents, one of Papantoniadis' accusers alleged that Papantoniadis kicked him in the genitals, requiring him to undergo surgery. On another occasion, Papantoniadis allegedly slapped and choked the man, breaking his teeth so badly they had to be removed.

The charge of forced labor provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000.

In 1996, Papantoniadis was charged with assault and battery, malicious destruction of property and assault and battery with dangerous weapon − a pizza shovel − according to the detention order issued by District Court Judge Judith Gail Dein in March of 2023.

In 1997, he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail for motor vehicle homicide and leaving the scene of an accident.

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor investigated Papantoniadis for overtime violations, resulting in employees receiving payments for back wages and damages, the detention order says.

Papantoniadis has a history of lying to governmental, according to the detention order, which alleges that he and his wife collected unemployment benefits while vacationing in Aruba.

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News Source : https://www.patriotledger.com/story/news/2024/04/10/stavros-papantoniadis-wire-fraud-randolph-ma-pizzaria-boston-pizza-co-forced-labor/73273923007/

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