North Huntingdon pizzeria owner claims he’s a ‘father figure’ who didn’t sexually harass women
The owner of a North Huntingdon pizzeria told jurors Wednesday that seven female waitresses lied when they accused him of improper sexual touching and harassment.
Cesare Tiano, 64, of Monroeville, testified in the second day of his criminal trial that he fostered a family atmosphere at Grande Pizza, the restaurant in Norwin Towne Square that he owns with his brother. He also told jurors he made no unwanted sexual comments or gestures to the seven former employees who claimed he routinely groped them and made lewd comments in 2015 and 2016.
“I am a father figure,” Tiano testified in a heavy Italian accent. “She liked it when I hugged her,” he said of one of his accusers.
The women, most of whom were college-aged when they worked at the restaurant, claimed Tiano would proposition them for sex, show them pornography, ask about intimate details of their sex lives and initiate unwanted touching through hugs and other actions.
Tiano is charged with seven counts each of harassment and indecent assault.
In court Wednesday, Tiano told jurors that he behaved in a manner consistent with his Italian upbringing, in which hugs and kisses were common practice. And he maintained that county Detective Randall Gardner, who questioned him last year about the allegations, fabricated the evidence against him.
When Assistant District Attorney Kelly Hammers asked, “Are all seven girls lying?” Tiano replied, “Yes.”
Tiano’s wife, Donna, testified that she never saw her husband act inappropriately with his staff and that he was unable to get any sexual gratification from such actions because of prostate surgery years ago that left him unable to get aroused without medication.
Louralee Sam, a former manager at the restaurant who described herself as a family friend, testified she advised Tiano’s accusers to take their complaints to the police.
“They all came to me to complain about it,” Sam testified. “It just all got out of hand.”
Michael Lockwich, a prosecution witness who still works as a cook at Grande Pizza, initially confirmed to authorities some of the allegations made by Tiano’s accusers, according to detectives. But in court on Wednesday he said he couldn’t recall any inappropriate actions and retracted statements investigators said he made during the investigation.
“He’s a good guy,” Lockwich said of Tiano.
Closing arguments in the case are expected to begin Thursday morning, according to Common Pleas Court Judge Meagan Bilik DeFazio.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, email@example.com or via Twitter .