Long Island restaurant owner owes workers thousands of dollars in back wages, NY State says

Kristin Thorne Image
Thursday, December 1, 2022
NY restaurant owner owes workers thousands of dollars in back wages
New York State says the owner of Sunrise Pizza in Rockville Centre owes his workers hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages. Kristin Thorne has the story.

LONG ISLAND, New York (WABC) -- An Eyewitness News investigation has found that the New York State Department of Labor ordered the owner of a popular Nassau County Italian restaurant to pay a group of his former workers tens of thousands of dollars in back wages and yet, 11 years later, the workers remain unpaid.

According to court documents, Nick Angelis, who is identified in court filings as the owner of Sunrise Pizza, also known as Nick's Pizza in Rockville Centre, owes $283,551 to eight of his former workers.

"I put too much love into this job and now where's the money?" former worker Jorge Martinez-Romero said.

Martinez-Romero worked at Nick's Pizza beginning in 2003 and, according to records from the New York State Department of Labor, is owed $41,065.14.

Eyewitness News investigative reporter Kristin Thorne met at Hofstra University with Martinez-Romero and two other former workers of Nick's Pizza.

Eyewitness News partnered with Hofstra University's online news site "The Long Island Advocate" for the investigation.

The workers told Eyewitness News that for years they worked 60-75 hours a week and were paid a flat rate that amounted to well below minimum wage. They were paid in both cash and check.

They said when they spoke up to management about their low wages, they were told they could find another job.

"They treated people like animals," former worker Julio Contreras said.

In 2009, the workers filed a complaint with the New York State Department of Labor.

In August 2011, the Labor Department cited Angelis for violating state wage laws and ordered him to pay the workers the $283,551.

The letter said Angelis owed an additional $283,551.57 in state civil penalties and would have to pay the workers another $90,354 in 16% interest.

"There is also due and owing by the employer to the said employee(s) interest at the above rate to the above date in the sum indicated above, which shall continue to accrue at the said rate until the aforesaid wages are paid," the letter stated.

Ten years went by and the workers said they never received notification of the August 2011 order to comply.

It wasn't until a former worker last March received a letter from the Labor Department referring to a 2021 judgement in Angelis' case that the workers found out about the August 2011 decision.

In July 2021, the Nassau County Supreme Court ruled in favor of the New York State Department of Labor retrieving $658,957.89 from Angelis.

The letter the worker received in March alerting him to the court's decision was dated seven months earlier - August 2021.

He alerted the rest of the former workers, including Saul Asencio, who is owed $51,000, according to the documents.

Asencio said he immediately called the Department of Labor in Albany and was told that the case there was "closed" and he would have to contact Nassau County.

Nassau County, he said, told him they couldn't help. Asencio said he even went to the Nassau County Sheriff's Office, but they weren't able to help either.

Asencio said he contacted several lawyers who said they would help him, but only if they got some of the money.

One lawyer demanded 50% of Asencio's back wages if he was able to retrieve the money, Asencio said.

"Nick's Pizza has gotten away with this for years and the state has not gotten the money for these workers," said Nadia Marin-Molina with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

The state Labor Department said in a statement to Eyewitness News, "We are actively working on this case and prepared to pursue all available measures to ensure these workers are paid what they are owed. Wage theft will not be tolerated and the DOL remains committed to protecting hardworking New Yorkers from bad actors who attempt to cheat them out of hard-earned wages."

Eyewitness News tried to track down Angelis to ask him about the unpaid wages. We went to Nick's Pizza on Sunrise Highway, but were told he wasn't there and that he was either no longer the owner of the restaurant or was a co-owner of the restaurant.

At one point, an employee of the restaurant locked the front door on Eyewitness News investigative reporter Kristin Thorne, so she couldn't come in to ask more questions.

Eyewitness News reached out to Angelis by phone. We left a voicemail and sent a text message. We also reached out to Angelis' attorney several times, went to Angelis' home (no one answered) and didn't receive responses from Angelis or his attorney.

Miguel Alassevillano with the Workplace Project in Hempstead has been trying to help the workers since they came to a community meeting held by the Workplace Project.

He said this is a human rights issue.

"They must be paid and rewarded," Alassevillano said.

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