An Arizona man in the Federal Witness Protection Program has taken money from broken restaurant-development projects across the country, the Arizona Republic daily newspaper reported.
Frank Capri was behind the collapse of a restaurant chain named after country music recording star Toby Keith. Starting in 2009, Phoenix-based companies controlled by Capri opened 20 restaurants under the name Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill.
But by 2015, 19 of the 20 restaurants had closed. Developers sued Capri, claiming he failed to pay contractors, broke agreements to lease space in shopping centers, and took millions of dollars that were supposed to cover construction costs.
But bad publicity from that litigation didn’t prevent Capri from planning the development of another restaurant chain named after country band Rascal Flatts.
He was behind projects to open Rascal Flatts restaurants in 19 cities, including Chicago, Orlando, St. Louis and Pittsburgh. But only one Rascal Flatts restaurant opened, then closed after about a year in business.
The Arizona Republic reported that Capri used is girlfriend, Tawney Costa, and her business associate, Chris Burka, as fronts in the Rascal Flatts restaurant projects.
Ray Roshto, who owns Ussher Construction in Glendale, Arizona, said Capri hired him to build Rascal Flatts restaurants in five cities. Roshto also told the newspaper that Capri insisted on keeping his name off contracts and paying for construction work through a company called RF Restaurants.
Capri declined requests from the Arizona Republic for interviews. The newspaper reported that in 1999 the federal government gave him the name Frank Capri, along with a Social Security number and a 1967 birthday.
His original name was Frank Gioia Jr., and he was a member of the Lucchese crime family in New York City who committed murder and trafficked illegal drugs. To avoid prison, he cooperated with federal prosecutors and helped them convict more than 70 Mafia members in the 1990s and the 2000s.
Prosecutors rewarded him by giving him a new identity and putting him in the Federal Witness Protection Program.
In 2008, Capri began to present himself as a commercial developer of a chain of indoor playgrounds. He offered long-term leases to mall owners in exchange for upfront cash payments, but never built the promised playgrounds.
In similar fashion, Capri opened and closed Toby Keith restaurants, broke leases and prevented developers from getting paid. Dozens of lawsuits ensued, and by 2017, courts across the country had ordered him or his companies to pay civil judgments totaling at least $65 million.
In August 2017, RF Restaurants opened its first and last Rascal Flatts restaurant in Stamford, Connecticut. It closed about a year later amid claims that RF Restaurants owed more than $1.1 million of unpaid rent.
RF Restaurants was sued after it terminated Rascal Flatts restaurant projects in Pittsburgh, Gainesville, Florida; and Hollywood, California. Mall owners and developers involved in the Rascal Flatts projects claimed that RF Restaurants broke contracts and failed to pay rent. [Arizona Republic] – Mike Seemuth