by Frank Lewis
Russell Masetta wants you to know something, so zip it and listen: He founded the Nature Stone flooring business in 1988 on the principles of determination and family loyalty. So just forget about all this kick-backing mafia stuff that happened for all the years right before that, you understand? Or do you need it explained in person?
The founder of the Bedford business sprung for a half-page ad in Sunday's Plain Dealer to tell half the story of his upbringing. The ad, which had to have cost several thousand dollars, featured a story about his father, Andrew “YAYA” Masetta — local slow-pitch softball hero and cement finisher — who gave his son a start in the construction business at a time when he needed the incognito time.
When Andrew passed in 2004, Russell incorporated “YAYA” into his business logo (so small that PD designers had to use the symbol of a magnifying glass to point out that it was right there, under the “E” in NATURE STONE). It’s a lovely story, though, for an advertisement.
Scene is nervous but duty-bound to fill in some blanks.
Like how federal agents searched Masetta’s home and business last fall as part of its wide-ranging probe of county corruption. They were also looking for his name among the belongings of county commissioner Jimmy Dimora, auditor Frank Russo and county worker/Parma school board prez J. Kevin Kelley — three officials Masetta claims paid him fair and square for work he did on their houses and public buildings. Are you calling him a liar?
Masetta is one of two allegedly mob-connected Greater Clevelanders whose names federal agents were interested in finding in their search through county HQ last year. (The other is John Joyce, a business partner of embattled developer and Dimora friend Steven Pumper of D-A-S Construction. Joyce reputedly was connected to former Clevelander Jackie Presser, who rose to teamster boss on the back of the mob.)
In 1979, Masetta became business agent of the then-mob-run Teamsters Local 417. Soon thereafter, he married the daughter of Peter Milano, at the time LA’s top don. A few years later, Masetta got indicted on felony extortion and conspiracy charges for accepting bribes from a FBI agent, who said Masetta agreed to let him run a fake movie set union-free.
Masetta denies any wrongdoing to this day, of course, even though he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and served four months in prison. Attorneys are expensive, he explained at the time. When he got back home, Masetta went to work building what has become a powerful cement-finishing company. He also started the Italian American Brotherhood again, turning the old gangster hang into a public club.
According to the PD last September, federal authorities watched in 1995 as the club — made up of Masetta and other known mafia types — paid tribute to Anthony Milano, the ex-underboss of Cleveland’s La Cosa Nostra. Before he resigned from the club four years ago, an undercover agent also watched the club honor commissioner Dimora as its Man of the Year. Milano family members were present for Jimmy’s big hug.
Masetta didn’t return Scene’s calls, now that the indictments are pouring like rain from federal court, but last year, he denied everything: “I have to stand on my record. There is nothing illegal going on. I have dedicated my life to my family and this business.”
But if he wants flattering coverage, he has to pay for it. — Dan Harkins