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AUSTINTOWN Owner says The Upstairs wasn't used for shady deals



Published: Mon, January 21, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The restaurateur isn't sure what to tell the federal prosecutor, if anything.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

AUSTINTOWN -- "This is Ralph, our Soup Nazi," says Joe Saadey, pointing as a man in a blindingly white tunic passes by.

Jerry Seinfeld's TV fans will remember the Soup Nazi episode and how violators of the counter man's strict soup-ordering policy heard, "No soup for you!"

Patrons of Saadey's pricey bar-eatery -- The Upstairs Lounge -- know his sense of humor through imaginative ads that poke fun at, well, most everything.

The ads, he said, are necessary to generate business because the 4500 Mahoning Ave. bar-restaurant is a flight up (hence the name) in an old building and not easily spotted from the street.

When an ad invites diners to Italian night, the punch line is, "We're expecting a mob." Another ad warns: "You'll love our Italian food‚ or else."

Saadey, 45, has operated The Upstairs for 14 years. "I thought I'd open it, have fun for a couple of years and that would be it," he said, laughing.

Every wall displays artwork, mostly oil paintings, done by Saadey's mother, Jean. Most are not for sale -- she gets too attached to her work, he said.

Her age, a reporter wondered? "Are you kidding?" came the shocked reply. The grin that followed said the good son wasn't about to answer the question. Brother's bribery case: Sitting on a bar stool before the lunch crush, Saadey talked about his family, the business and the effect the federal bribery case against his brother, Russell J. Saadey Jr., 47, has had. The elder Saadey, called Champ, will be sentenced Feb. 25 in Cleveland.

Champ Saadey, who has maintained his innocence, is hopeful that U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. O'Malley will allow him to stay out of prison pending the results of his appeal.

The case against the former Mahoning County prosecutor's investigator was built primarily on the testimony of businessmen who said he took part in extortion schemes.

Business at The Upstairs, meanwhile, has been good, very good -- it didn't fall off during his brother's trial in October, Joe Saadey said. At the trial, federal prosecutors characterized his restaurant as a meeting place for those interested in case fixing.

Saadey, stung by the criticism, still maintained a good outlook. His patrons stuck by him.

It wasn't until the government filed a motion asking to increase Champ Saadey's sentencing range to 63 to 78 months from 46 to 55 months that the anger Joe Saadey had stifled since the trial erupted.

In the motion, Thomas J. Gruscinski, an assistant U.S. attorney, said he doesn't want Champ Saadey's conduct to be treated as an ordinary bribery case. He said justice in Austintown was bought and sold through The Upstairs Lounge.

The U.S. attorney's office had no comment.

Denies seeing such activity: "I'm upset by what he said -- that 'justice was bought and sold through The Upstairs,'" Joe Saadey said. "I'm here all the time -- all the time -- I never saw any of that. He makes it look like this was a brokerage house for crime."

Saadey said he doesn't intrude on his patrons' privacy or monitor their conversations. He said he asks how their dinner is, then moves on.

"You and your buddy could sit and plan a murder," Saadey said. "I can't control what people do or say."

Saadey said that the federal prosecutor's motion contains untruths but that he's not sure what he can do about it. "I haven't got to that point yet. I may let it die; I may write a letter."

He believes his brother, not the government.

"Champ says it didn't happen, and I believe him," Joe Saadey said. "Look at the characters who testified. They had nothing to lose and fueled a fire that never was."

Joe Saadey said he's worked hard to achieve a reputation for fine dining ("we're not inexpensive") and that's the reputation he wants to keep. "It's a bar with great food," he said.

Regaining his sense of humor and waving his arms to take in the relatively small dining area (14 tables), Saadey said he doesn't hesitate to "gently" boot out his brothers, sisters and cousins if they linger too long and he needs their table.

"I say, 'Hey, are you guys done? Get the hell out.'"

meade@vindy.com




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