Mafia turn­coat busted in restau­rant schemes

Busi­ness­man al­legedly de­frauded de­vel­op­ers

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Robert An­glen WKYC

A Mafia turn­coat who al­legedly or­ches­trated the fail­ure of Toby Keith and Ras­cal Flatts restau­rants across the coun­try from Hawaii to Florida is in cus­tody af­ter be­ing in­dicted on fed­eral fraud and money laun­der­ing charges.

Ari­zona busi­ness­man Frank Capri used restau­rant li­cens­ing deals with the coun­try su­per­stars as a lure to de­fraud de­vel­op­ers on con­struc­tion projects, fed­eral prose­cu­tors said.

Capri’s ar­rest fol­lows an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion by The Ari­zona Repub­lic that be­gan in 2015. The Repub­lic ex­posed Capri as an ex- mob­ster who was given a new iden­tity through the Fed­eral Wit­ness Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram and al­legedly used it to bilk de­vel­op­ers out of mil­lions of dol­lars.

Prose­cu­tors said Capri en­listed his mother and oth­ers to fun­nel money meant to pay for restau­rant con­struc­tion at malls into their own ac­counts. They used fraud­u­lent pa­per­work, fab­ri­cated con­trac­tors, forged sig­na­tures and false no­tary stamps to con­vince de­vel­op­ers work was pro­gress­ing on projects when it wasn’t, the in­dict­ment said.

The in­dict­ment does not men­tion Capri’s back­ground as a for­mer Mafia sol­dier named Frank Gioia Jr., a “made man” in the Luc­ch­ese crime fam­ily.

Part of the deal Gioia made with fed­eral prose­cu­tors when he agreed to turn state’s ev­i­dence against the mob in­cluded new iden­ti­ties for his fa­ther, mother, sis­ter and brother- in- law, court records show.

The Ari­zona U. S. At­tor­ney’s Office de­clined to an­swer ques­tions Fri­day about Capri’s sta­tus in the wit­ness pro­tec­tion pro­gram.

Capri pleaded not guilty Feb. 5 be­fore U. S. Mag­is­trate Michelle Burns.

Capri, 52, of Scotts­dale, Ari­zona, faces five counts of wire fraud, nine counts of trans­ac­tional money laun­der­ing and two counts of con­spir­acy. He was charged along with his mother, Deb­bie Corvo, 68, and for­mer business part­ner Chris Burka.

The col­lapse of Toby Keith restau­rants

The Repub­lic’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion found Capri’s com­pany, Boom­town En­ter­tain­ment, built 20 Toby Keith restau­rants be­gin­ning in 2009 and an­nounced plans to build 20 more that never opened. It closed 19 restau­rants in about 18 months be­gin­ning in 2013.

Even as restau­rants went un­der, Capri an­nounced plans to open ones that never were built.

By 2017, judges in cities across the coun­try or­dered him or his com­pa­nies to pay at least $ 65 mil­lion in civil judg­ments. It is un­clear how many judg­ments were paid or settled.

Fed­eral prose­cu­tors don’t name Toby Keith or Ras­cal Flatts restau­rants in the in­dict­ment, which lists them by the ini­tials TK and RF and refers to them as the “branded restau­rants.”

“De­spite Capri’s con­trol and own­er­ship of the var­i­ous busi­nesses, he is not for­mally listed as the owner on rel­e­vant in­cor­po­ra­tion and trust doc­u­men­ta­tion as­so­ci­ated with the busi­nesses,” ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment. “The ma­jor­ity of the busi­nesses are listed in the name of Capri’s mother ... or other nom­i­nees with ties to Capri.”

Feds: Fab­ri­cated con­struc­tion records

Ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment, Capri di­rected Boom­town em­ploy­ees in 2011 to fab­ri­cate con­struc­tion records for the Toby Keith restau­rants.

Boom­town em­ploy­ees re­ferred to the bo­gus pa­per­work as “arts and crafts,” ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment.

“Be­tween March 2012 and Novem­ber 2014, Boom­town en­tered into ap­prox­i­mately 24 lease agree­ments that en­ti­tled Boom­town to ap­prox­i­mately $ 64,802,029.66 in T. I. funds for the con­struc­tion of the ( Toby Keith) restau­rant lo­ca­tions,” fed­eral prose­cu­tors said in the in­dict­ment.

Boom­town be­came in­sol­vent, leading to con­struc­tion de­lays at “ev­ery project,” prose­cu­tors said. Capri stopped pay­ing rent, taxes and con­struc­tion and main­te­nance costs, ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment.

In a let­ter to the Repub­lic in 2017, Capri de­nied pock­et­ing de­vel­op­ment money and de­scribed the Keith clo­sures as noth­ing “other than the prod­uct of a business fail­ure.”

Ras­cal Flatts restau­rant ruin

Capri was in­volved in the finan­cial ruin of 19 Ras­cal Flatts restau­rant projects, the Repub­lic re­ported in 2019.

Capri’s name does not ap­pear on cor­po­rate doc­u­ments tied to the Ras­cal Flatts restau­rants, but be­hind the scenes, he over­saw hir­ing, firing, em­ployee pay­ments, per­mits, con­struc­tion sched­ules and col­lec­tion of fees.

Se­cretly recorded au­dio­tapes of Capri’s phone calls pro­vided a vivid pic­ture of his role. In the pro­fan­ity- laced record­ings ob­tained by the Repub­lic, Capri threat­ened de­vel­op­ers to try to squeeze cash out of the Ras­cal Flatts projects.

Tawny Costa, Capri’s girl­friend and the mother of two of his chil­dren, and Burka were listed as man­agers on cor­po­ra­tion filings for RF Restau­rants.

In texts to the Repub­lic, Costa ad­mit­ted in March to serv­ing as Capri’s front for the Ras­cal Flatts projects.

Capri and oth­ers cre­ated ficti­tious gen­eral and sub­con­trac­tor en­ti­ties to give the scheme le­git­i­macy and con­ceal the fraud, the in­dict­ment says.

Burka and Costa traded blame for the finan­cial col­lapse, each telling the Repub­lic in March that the other con­trolled the business.

Ari­zona busi­ness­man Frank Capri ap­par­ently or­ches­trated the col­lapse of Ras­cal Flatts restau­rants in cities across the coun­try, in­clud­ing one in Cleve­land, ac­cord­ing to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by The Ari­zona Repub­lic.

Capri

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