East End Beacon

SEPA Mujer: Princess Diner Wage Theft Case Should Encourage Immigrants to Report Abuse

The Princess Diner in Southampton.
The Princess Diner in Southampton.

With the assistance of Latina justice advocate groups, the owner and manager of the Princess Diner in Southampton have been arrested and indicted on charges by the New York State Attorney General that they bilked 13 restaurant workers of more than $82,000 in wages.

Attorney General Eric. T. Schneiderman’s office announced Tuesday that Princess Diner owner Richard Bivona and manager John Kalogeras were also “allegedly scheming to defraud those workers by continually lying to them about eventually receiving full compensation.”

Richard Bivona | mug shot courtesy NYS Attorney General
Richard Bivona | mug shot courtesy NYS Attorney General

Mr. Bivona and Mr. Kalogeras are each charged with separate counts of harassment for allegedly “intimidating and threatening workers and their families when the workers asked to be paid,” according to the Attorney General’s office.

Along with the corporation that owns the diner, RJT Food & Restaurant, LLC, the defendants were also charged with grand and petty larceny, scheme to defraud and failure to pay wages between August and December of 2016, for a total of 35 separate counts.

Grassroots Latina immigrant women’s rights organization SEPA Mujer first received a call from a member of their Hampton Bays Chapter in December 2016 asking for SEPA Mujer’s support to organize Princess Diner workers to come forward and report the practices going on in their workplace.

“This member described the workplace environment to be intolerable, reporting that workers constantly faced racism and harassment, including sexual harassment,” according to SEPA Mujer. “The workers quickly came together thanks to this member, who instilled trust and provided leadership.”

John Kalogeras | mug shot courtesy NYS Attorney General
John Kalogeras | mug shot courtesy NYS Attorney General

SEPA Mujer contacted LatinoJustice, the NY Department of Labor, Southampton Town Police Detectives, and the State Attorney General’s office to start the process of getting justice for these workers, who included cooks, servers, dishwashers and bussers.

“A worker’s most basic right is the right to be paid for his or her work,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “These defendants allegedly engaged in a long running scheme to not only steal their employees’ hard-earned money, but to intimidate and harass their victims when they attempted to speak up. We will not allow New York workers to be exploited and demeaned.”

“We want to create a precedent that these types of cases are not unique, there are many, but this group getting justice will mark a clear line that criminal cases like this one will face justice,” said SEPA Mujer Executive Director Martha Maffei in an Oct. 21 statement. “Organization like ours are the ones trying to empower our community to make sure they come forward and seek justice and fight for their rights. Our immigrant community that is being discriminated against and oppressed must feel comfortable to report crimes and work with the police. It starts with good relationship and trust-building among the police and the community…. The workers have expressed how thankful they are towards the police officers and detectives who extended their help.”

SEPA Mujer, which is based in Islandia, has active chapters that meet regularly at St. Rosalie’s Church’s Parish Center in Hampton Bays and at the Riverside Rediscovered headquarters on Peconic Lane in Riverside. More info is online at sepamujer.org.

“These workers demonstrated great courage in challenging their criminal abusers, said Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, Associate Counsel of Latino Justice. “We thank SEPA Mujer for their critical organizing work and helping ensure that the voices of these workers are heard. Further, we commend the Attorney General for prosecuting this case. Our current criminal justice system too commonly focuses on prosecuting low level offenses, but turns a blind eye to systematic wage theft of working-class employees. We hope this is a turning point for criminal prosecution of economic crimes, even among the most vulnerable among us.”


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