Guilty Pleas in Latina Group Diner Labor Abuse Case

(Photo via RiverheadLOCAL)

Thanks to the courage of a group of local workers who dared to denounce labor abuse in the restaurant where they worked, justice was done, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a press release on Friday March 9.

Schneiderman announced that the owner and the manager of Princess Diner, as well as the corporation RJT Food & Restaurant LLC, which does business under the name Southampton Princess Diner, have pleaded guilty on several charges regarding labor abuse against their workers.

“Employees deserve fair pay for a fair day’s work,” said Schneiderman in a release. “Companies that scheme to exploit their employees and stiff them of the wages they earned should take note: we will take you to court to win back workers’ hard-earned money.”

Owner Richard Bivona and manager John Kalogeras stole a total of more than $132,000 from 23 workers. They were also accused of failing to compensate workers on numerous occasions, and conspiring to defraud by lying to them as to when they could receive compensation.

Bivona pled guilty on Friday to a scheme to defraud charge in Suffolk County Supreme Court, a class E felony, and to repeated failure to pay wages, a misdemeanor. Bivona will be sentenced on June 15 to a jail term not to exceed six months.

Kalogeras, for his part, pled guilty to failure to pay wages, and the court indicated that he will be sentenced to a conditional discharge.

The company representing the diner, RJT Food & Restaurant LLC, pled guilty to scheme to defraud and failure to secure workers’ compensation coverage, a class E felony.

Martha Maffei, executive director of SEPA Mujer, a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower Latina women, said that this is a case that has gained statewide prominence thanks to two workers who decided to raise their voices.

Those Latina workers had participated in a leadership course organized by SEPA and decided to contact the organization to assist them with their situation. SEPA helped them to gather all workers whose payment had been withheld for months and referred them to the appropriate authorities, such as the Southampton Police Department, the Department of Labor and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

“They were very brave, all those people who joined together and had the power to speak up,” said Maffei.


Princess Diner, located at 32 Montauk Highway in Southampton, New York, is a popular restaurant in the affluent area, and has been operating for many decades. Many employees – including cooks, dishwashers, bussers, servers and others – have worked there for over 10 years.

Kalogeras was the owner until August, when Bivona took over the diner. Kalogeras, however, stayed to run the day-to-day operations.

Between August and December 2016, workers were not paid their weekly wages, which often included overtime hours during high season. Employees who received cash tips lived off them exclusively, since Bivona withheld most of their credit card tips from them or paid them only a partial amount several weeks later.

Workers, who according to Schneiderman’s release were made repeated false promises that payment was imminent, suffered this situation for a long time out of fear and because they didn’t know their rights, said Maffei.

“We want the community to know that they have rights,” said Maffei, who added that SEPA is trying to educate the community from the ground up. “We want to be the bridge between the community and state and law enforcement agencies.”


Maffei added that they are currently seeking funds to create a program with a person who would serve as a community link whom workers could reach to channel their complaints directly, without fear.

“We want to create a safe space for the people, and we will use this case as an example in which justice has been done,” she said.

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