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Rascal Flatts restaurants failed nationwide. Did a Mafia soldier pull the strings?

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Editor's note: The words, audio and video in this story contain profanity that some might find disturbing. The raw language is essential to characterize the business dealings of the story’s main subject. More about this series.

Frank Capri's voice vibrates menace. His words tumble out of the phone Brooklyn-tough, a low, clipped mix of obscenity and intimidation.  


"Call (that) f--ker tomorrow and go, 'You know something, you lied straight to my face, you son of a bitch, and I’m so f--king pissed off I’m going to pull out of the whole f--king job. Get another f--king contractor to go there and deal with your f--king baby f--king bulls--t. ... You trying to do that to me? F--k you. You go get another f--king contractor.'"

This is Capri doing business. In this case, business means getting as much money as he can out of an unfinished Rascal Flatts restaurant in Cleveland before the project collapses.

Capri is not publicly connected to the restaurant. He works behind the scenes from his Arizona home, directing contractors who serve as his fronts on developments across the country.  

Another call. This time, Capri brushes off a state investigation into possible contract violations at a Rascal Flatts project in Gainesville, Florida. 

"Here's exactly what happened out there. You weren't licensed in Florida, so Paul went out and got me a contractor. … The deal was the same deal I worked with you. Twelve grand. I used his license. And we work under his license. That was it, OK? That guy went and screwed us over. So what's the investigation? There's nothing there. It's all talk. It's all talk. And it's all hype. 'Ooh, ooh, there must be something going on. There must be something going on.' There's nothing going on. Stupid s--t."

More calls, more demands, more cajoling.  All recorded by one of Capri's contractors in 2018. Much of the talk is about money, with Capri focused on squeezing developers for payments — mobilization fees, or "draws," as Capri calls them. Upfront cash meant to pay for construction of restaurants bearing the name of the country band Rascal Flatts. 

Projects were planned in Hollywood, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Des Moines, Boise, Orlando, St. Louis and a dozen other cities. Only one restaurant opened. It closed about a year later. The others never were completed.

And money meant to pay for construction? Gone. Part of a plan apparently orchestrated by a mob turncoat who walked out of prison and into a new life years ago, courtesy of the Federal Witness Protection Program.


Frank Capri
Frank Capri Handout photo

It's not likely developers looking to add Rascal Flatts restaurants to their lineup of urban eateries would sign a contract with Frank Capri.

A simple Google search would show them Capri was behind the epic failure of another country-themed restaurant chain: Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill. 

Capri's Phoenix companies built 20 Toby Keith restaurants beginning in 2009 and announced plans to build 20 more that never opened. By 2015, all but one had closed. Allegations of fraud and theft followed. 

In lawsuits, developers claimed he stiffed contractors, broke lease agreements and took millions of dollars meant to pay for construction.

Capri's name does not appear on corporate documents tied to the Rascal Flatts restaurants. He isn't listed on business licenses, liquor applications or building permits filed in cities across the country.

But an investigation by The Arizona Republic found Capri controlled key aspects of the projects before they, too, collapsed.  

Capri relied on his girlfriend and her business associate to front the restaurants, phone recordings, text messages, documents and interviews show. Working behind the scenes, Capri oversaw hiring, firing, employee payments, permits, construction schedules and collection of development fees.

He also threatened to sic lawyers on developers who didn't bend to his will.

"Rascal Flatts, this was all Frank," said Ray Roshto, owner of Ussher Construction in Glendale. "He handled all the trades (sub-contractors) and all the money."

Ray Roshto, owner of Ussher Construction in Glendale, who launched Rascal Flatts projects in 6 cities for Frank Capri in 2017
Rascal Flatts, this was all Frank. He handled all the trades (sub-contractors) and all the money.

Roshto said Capri hired him in 2017 to launch Rascal Flatts projects in five cities and another restaurant in a sixth. But Roshto said Capri wanted his name kept off contracts and agreed to pay Roshto through a company called RF Investments. 

"Frank said, ‘Oh, no. I can’t have my name on the contract because I am not the owner,'" Roshto said.

Capri declined interview requests. He did not respond to an email, a phone message or a list of questions delivered to his Scottsdale lawyer on Feb. 25. He hung up when reached by phone.

Rascal Flatts restaurants failed nationwide. Did a mobster pull the strings?
Frank Capri received witness protection and used his new identity to wreak havoc on developers who wanted Toby Keith restaurants. Then, he did it again.
Patrick Breen, Arizona Republic


Frank Capri didn't exist until 1999, when the federal government gave him his name, Social Security number and a 1967 birthday.

He was born Frank Gioia Jr., a third-generation mobster. He rose to become a "made man" in New York City's notorious Lucchese Crime Family. Mafia historians call him one of the most important government witnesses ever to testify against the mob. 

His cooperation with law enforcement led to the conviction of more than 70 Mafia members — soldiers, captains, capos and bosses — in the 1990s and 2000s. He helped clear several unsolved murders.

In exchange for his cooperation, federal prosecutors erased Gioia’s past as a murderer, drug dealer, gun runner and leg breaker. They rewarded him with a new identity and enrolled him in the Federal Witness Protection Program.

The Republic in 2017 documented Capri's transition from gangster to witness to businessman.

Capri maintains stories about his past were "false and defamatory" but has offered no proof to support his claims. In a 2017 letter to the newspaper, he denied pocketing development money and described the Toby Keith closures as nothing "other than the product of a business failure."


Capri emerged in Arizona in the early 2000s. He used his government-provided identity to cast himself as a real-estate investor and restaurateur.

When the bottom fell out of the housing market in 2008, Capri positioned himself as a commercial developer. He started small, soliciting mall owners in Chandler and Mesa on a chain of indoor playgrounds.

Those early projects proved to be Capri's template for failure. He offered mall owners long-term leases in exchange for upfront cash, then walked away.

Cue the country music. Capri made similar deals for Toby Keith restaurants. Some closed within months of opening. Some never opened. Leases were broken, which meant developers weren't repaid. Capri's companies were evicted; restaurants were seized. 

Toby Keith has for years refused to discuss Capri with The Republic. The singer had no ownership interest in the restaurants; he only collected money on naming rights.

Capri was sued dozens of times. By 2017, judges in cities across the country ordered him or his companies to pay at least $65 million in civil judgments.

But Capri wasn't done. He applied his time-tested template to Rascal Flatts restaurants. And once more, projects began to fail.

The authorities who put Capri into the Federal Witness Protection Program won't talk about the string of financial failures and lawsuits left in his wake. 

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The U.S. Marshals Service, which manages the Witness Protection Program, will not discuss Capri. Officials are legally prohibited from acknowledging if anyone is or was enrolled in the Witness Protection Program.

The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice for years have declined to answer questions about Capri and neither will confirm nor deny the existence of any investigations.

A criminal case filed in January in Arizona U.S. District Court and initially sealed from public view could signal something is about to change.


Rascal Flatts has had enough. And the band is telling fans the restaurant projects are dead.

The band yanked its licensing agreement with RF Restaurants, the Las Vegas-based company registered in the names of Capri's girlfriend and her business associate. 

"The band terminated the license agreement and is no longer in business with this company or Mr. Capri," band spokeswoman Kristie Sheppard Sloan said in a statement to The Republic. 

MORE:  How Rascal Flatts got involved with a mobster in Witness Protection

Rascal Flatts' only connection to the restaurants was its name. Sheppard Sloan said the band had no ownership stake in the restaurants.

"Rascal Flatts licensed use of their name, image and logo to the restaurant developer and had nothing to do with the construction or build out plans for these restaurants," she said. "The use of the Rascal Flatts name in association with restaurants owned by RF IP, LLC or Frank Capri is no longer authorized."

In a Jan. 11 post on Twitter, the band told fans it wanted to clear up any confusion about its involvement in the restaurants. 

"Because we know you have been looking forward to enjoying our themed restaurants, we wanted to let you know that this project is no longer happening," the band tweeted.

It pointed out it wasn't "responsible for any obligations" of RF Restaurants.


RF Restaurants opened its first Rascal Flatts restaurant in Stamford, Connecticut, in August 2017. It offered a Southern-fried menu and a rockabilly roster of country concerts. According to news reports, the comfort food and down-home feel struck a chord with customers and fans of the band, known as Flattheads.  

RF Restaurants seemed poised to ride the success of its first location and take the concept nationwide. The company filed paperwork, including building applications, to open as many as 17 Rascal Flatts restaurants from Hawaii to Florida.

But the restaurant endeavor failed nearly as quickly as it arrived on the country-themed scene.

Stamford was the company's first and last Rascal Flatts restaurant. It stayed open about a year before closing in August 2018 amid allegations that RF Restaurants failed to pay more than $1.1 million in rent.

Lawsuits followed the shutdown of RF Restaurants' projects in Gainesville, Pittsburgh and Hollywood, California.

Projects in other cities fell behind schedule and halted. Mall owners who once touted Rascal Flatts projects pulled out of deals and started seeking new tenants for their malls.

And Rascal Flatts became the second verse of the same sad song that began with Toby Keith — failed developments, bad publicity and lawsuits tied to its brand. 


On paper, RF Restaurants had no connection to Capri.

RF managers Tawny Costa and Chris Burka worked together in the Phoenix-area restaurant business. They had credentials that would appeal to risk-averse developers looking for long-term tenants to anchor malls or entertainment districts.

A video shows Tawny Costa at a Foxborough, Massachusetts, Board of Selectmen meeting on Jan. 23, 2018.
A video shows Tawny Costa at a Foxborough, Massachusetts, Board of Selectmen meeting on Jan. 23, 2018. Town of Foxborough

Costa and Burka appeared to bring culinary and business savvy to the table. And they clearly passed muster with Rascal Flatts' business managers, whose job is to protect the interests of the three-man band, which has an estimated net worth of $150 million. 

They offered a high-end concept that could generate traffic from opening until last call, trading lunch and dinner crowds for drinkers and dancers after hours. And they wanted to take it nationwide.

Costa and Burka were backed by stories of success. They were partners in a Tempe restaurant called Blasted Barley.

Costa also ran restaurants in Scottsdale's tony Grayhawk community, San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter and Boston's waterfront. 

Burka owned development and investment companies. He had launched restaurants in Tempe and Chandler. In 2008, he promoted a concert tied to Super Bowl XLII featuring big-name rock, pop and country acts.

In Las Vegas, Costa and Burka oversaw a paper empire of Rascal Flatts restaurants. One or both were listed as managers on nearly 20 separate RF Restaurants filings with the Nevada secretary of state.

Chris Burka, former manager of RF Restaurants and RF Investments, about former RF business partner Tawny Costa
Everything was controlled 100 percent by Tawny. I was not an active person in the business. She handled everything. All the operations and the dollars.

Project developers likely didn't know Costa was Capri's longtime girlfriend. Nor was it likely they knew Burka considered himself a minority partner with little financial control over businesses he said were structured by Costa's attorney. 

"Everything was controlled 100 percent by Tawny," Burka said in a March interview from Florida. "I was not an active person in the business. She handled everything. All the operations and the dollars."

Costa said she had no interest or ownership in the projects.

"I do not have nor have I ever had any interest or ownership in any Rascal Flatts project," she said in a March email. "I had no involvement, contact, or contractual obligation to any developer in any RF project nor am I responsible for any of the obligations of the owners of said company."

Costa declined to answer a list of questions delivered to her Scottsdale attorney. The lawyer, Shawn Richter, is also Capri's personal counsel.

Richter confirmed he filed the paperwork to set up several of the RF Restaurants.  

Richter said Burka mischaracterized his role in the company.

"For him to say he (had) limited involvement, in my experience, would not be an accurate statement," Richter said.

He emphasized Costa was not an owner of RF Restaurants. But his clients have “not given permission to disclose who the owners are,” he said.

Most of the Nevada-based RF companies are now in default, according to the secretary of state. Only six were active in March.

In lawsuits against the company, mall owners and developers contended RF Restaurants breached contracts and failed to pay rent on the Rascal Flatts projects.

Contractors who worked on projects also allege they were not paid.

"Those are lawsuits I have to defend, because my name is associated with them," Burka said. "My name is on the lease ... I'm not the big owner in the business. I'm small. I'm a minority. It was Tawny."


Capri repeatedly uses Burka's name in the audio recordings, usually as a foil for developers anxious about troubled construction projects:

"Tell them to call. They've got Chris Burka's number ... Burka already got on the phone with the land owner. … I'm going to have Chris Burka fly out there." 

Burka said he has never met or communicated with Capri. He didn't learn of Capri's involvement in Rascal Flatts restaurants until after the projects spiraled out of control.  

Burka denied being at Capri's beck and call and said he did not fly anywhere at Capri's behest. He said Costa was his only contact at RF Restaurants.

Burka claimed his name was invoked without his knowledge and his signature was forged on documents, including a contract.

Tawny Costa, manager of RF Restaurants and RF Investments, in an email to The Arizona Republic
I do not have nor have I ever had any interest or ownership in any Rascal Flatts project. I had no involvement, contact, or contractual obligation to any developer in any RF project nor am I responsible for any of the obligations of the owners of said company.

"I didn't realize the extent of who she is or what she was doing," Burka said. "Not being straight … Unfortunately for me, it took me a little bit to get to the point where I could see it."

It wasn't until the Stamford location started floundering that Burka said he learned from landlords money paid to RF Restaurants wasn't going for construction.

"There was just too much going on and damage that was being created in different locations," he said. "There wasn't a whole lot I could do at that point. It was like I found out too late."

Burka acknowledged making phone calls to mall owners and meeting them to initiate projects. But he said he was not involved in the day-to-day management or construction of projects. 

He outlined his deal with Costa as a profit-sharing percentage, similar to the one for Blasted Barley. He said he brought the Rascal Flatts concept to Costa after working for years to get a licensing agreement from the band.

Text messages and audio recordings indicate Costa's involvement with the restaurant projects. In one recording, Capri says developers should call Costa if they have questions: "They've got Tawny's number. Tell them to call us."

In text messages from Costa's number to Roshto, she appears to direct payments and wire confirmations for projects. 

On Dec. 6, 2017, Roshto texts about money from Cleveland: "Hey Tawny this is Ray are we wiring Cleveland money in today according to Frank let me know."

Costa replies seconds later: "It will hit you(r) account tomorrow."

Burka said Costa boasted the businesses were structured to minimize her exposure. He said she suggested she couldn't be held liable.

"I said, 'What the hell are you talking about? You're a manager of the company,'" Burka said. "In cases where there was money involved … she would step up and say, 'No, no. I'm the owner. I'm the manager.'"

Richter said Costa was not involved in any project negotiations and had no role in RF Restaurants' day-to-day operations. 

"If you look at the leases for all of these properties, the only person who negotiated and signed leases is Chris Burka," Richter said. "I can tell you from the leases I have seen ... It was Burka."

Burka said he cut off communications with Costa and unofficially withdrew from RF Restaurants last year. 

Burka confirmed he has been spending a lot of time in Colombia. His social media pages, including Facebook, are loaded with pictures of international destinations, including Europe and South America, posted in the past year.

"I stopped communicating with anybody that had anything to do with Tawny," he said. "That was as of last summer. Because I couldn't take any more of the BS."


Developers often put up cash to lure big-name tenants to their projects. These "incentive" payments typically are used to pay for construction and are released in stages as work is completed.

Invoices, signed affidavits and on-site inspections are supposed to ensure work is getting done according to schedule. 

Capri, Costa and Burka are accused by developers and contractors of using Rascal Flatts projects as personal cash machines. And payouts were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Ray Roshto
Ray Roshto Robert Anglen/The Republic

"All three of them are in on it," Roshto, the Glendale contractor, said. "They are doing it together. Do I think Frank Capri was the mastermind behind it? Yes, I do."

Roshto and another project manager hired by Capri said they quickly realized he showed no interest in building Rascal Flatts restaurants.

Paul Yates said he used a sophisticated system of fake invoices and exaggerated construction schedules to squeeze as much cash as he could from each project with the least amount of work.

Yates said Capri hired him last year to serve as the on-site manager for RF Restaurants in multiple states. Recorded phone calls back up his claims. In one, Capri hurls obscenities over the way Yates handled a problem in Gainesville.

"Who the f--k are you talking to?" Capri says. "I am your f--king boss." 

Yates said Capri frequently directed him to create false invoices, claiming certain work had been completed on projects. Yates said the invoices sometimes totaled $400,000. 

Yates said he had copies of the invoices but declined to provide them.  

"We did it on quite a few jobs," Yates said in a recent interview from Cleveland. "I did a lot of them."

He said Capri instructed him to get the invoices notarized. The invoices were submitted to developers, triggering them to release "mobilization fees" to RF Restaurants.  

Had the work been done?

"No," Yates said. "Hell, no. No. No, it had been started. And once it had been started, he (Capri) would have all these numbers together. He'd say notarize these real fast, turn them in to me, give them to Chris Burka, and they'd send them out to get the money."

Yates, who does not have a contractor's license, lives in Apache Junction. He said he makes his living serving as a middleman between contractors and project owners.

Yates said he met Capri last year while remodeling the Grayhawk Beer Company, a restaurant run by Costa in north Scottsdale that closed a few months after opening. The remodeled restaurant reopened in Grayhawk Plaza last year as Parma Italian Roots. 

Yates said he moved between Rascal Flatts projects in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

He said Capri scrutinized his decisions in near-daily phone calls. Once the money started drying up and developers began locking them out of projects, Capri stopped calling. 

Yates said Capri ultimately cut off all communication and left him stranded in Florida. He said Capri owes him $46,000.

Yates said he regrets what he did for Capri and worries whether he will be left holding the bag.   

"I don't want to go to jail," Yates said.

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Few people are better suited to provide insight into Capri's operation than Roshto and Yates. They were involved in multiple projects and dealt directly with developers, construction supervisors and workers.

Documents and interviews with subcontractors and developers in multiple cities confirmed their roles. Roshto's license gave RF Restaurants access to job sites across the country. Yates hired contractors, collected bids and rented equipment.

Roshto's contract with RF Investments spelled out their jobs. It also tied Capri to the restaurant projects. 

The contract was purportedly signed by Burka on Sept. 16, 2017. Burka, however, maintained the signature wasn't his. 

The one-page contract essentially made Roshto the general contractor on five Rascal Flatts projects and a new Blasted Barley restaurant in Columbus, Ohio.

RF Investments agreed to pay Roshto $72,000 to use his license for projects in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Boise, Des Moines, St. Louis and Columbus. His license allowed the company to sign development deals and file for permits.

The contract gave Yates permission to operate under Roshto's license. It authorized Yates to schedule and supervise subcontractors on the restaurant projects.

RF Investments agreed to pay Roshto's taxes "once a full-service estimate is provided by Frank Capri in the total cost of each job outside of Arizona."

RF Investments also offered to pay Roshto extra for making on-site visits. Roshto, however, said his deal with Capri was a straightforward licensing agreement. 

"I never left Arizona," he said. "I never did any of that."

Roshto, 49, has lived in Arizona since 1994. He moved to the state from Las Vegas after being honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy, where he served as a mechanic on F-18 Hornets.

Roshto has four kids from two marriages and a prison record he doesn't try to hide. He was arrested on multiple drug and theft charges in the 1990s. In 2008, he was convicted on drug charges and was locked up for 18 months. 

Paul Yates
Paul Yates Robert Anglen/The Republic

"I've been free and clean ever since," he said. "There's no reason to lie about it. I did it … I don't do it anymore."  

Roshto said he is proud of his company, which he has built up over the past 10 years. Ussher Construction specializes in home remodels and small commercial projects. 

He said getting involved with Capri nearly wrecked him. He said he estimates he has spent more than $100,000 trying to extricate himself and his company from legal issues tied to Rascal Flatts projects.  

And RF Investments never fully paid him for use of his license, he said.

"They used me," Roshto said. "I was used. Used and abused. He (Capri) put a hurt on me financially. I'm about broke right now."


Capri cashed in twice on the same Cleveland development, first with a Toby Keith restaurant and then with a Rascal Flatts project. 

The developer would have had little way of knowing Capri was behind RF Restaurants when officials signed a deal for a project in the city's famed entertainment district on the Cuyahoga River — called the Flats. 

And they almost certainly wouldn't willingly do business with him. After all, they sued Capri for $360,000 in 2016 over a failed Toby Keith restaurant.

The Rascal Flatts project at the Flats East in Cleveland fell behind schedule in January 2018 and developers launched a flurry of legal action.
The Rascal Flatts project at the Flats East in Cleveland fell behind schedule in January 2018 and developers launched a flurry of legal action. Courtesy of WKYC

When the Rascal Flatts project fell behind schedule in 2018 and the developer launched a flurry of legal action, officials discovered they once more were locked in a financial battle with Capri.

Roshto said when he dropped Capri's name for the first time, Rob Clarke of Fairmont Properties, the Flats' general manager, was furious.

"I said, 'You're going to have to call Frank Capri,'" Roshto said. "He was totally surprised. He shouted out, 'Frank Capri!' Then he said it again: 'Frank Capri.' And I said, 'Yeah.'"

The general manager wasn't the only one who got mad, Roshto said. So did Capri.

"Capri said, 'You can't be mentioning my name to nobody,'" Roshto said. "I asked, 'Why not?' Frank said 'Just don't mention my name. If you want to mention a name, mention Chris Burka.'"  

Clarke did not respond to questions about Capri, RF Restaurants or Rascal Flatts.

In the recorded phone calls, Capri describes Clarke as desperate. 

 "He's trying to put pressure on everybody. To get the f--king place built. But what he's going to do is f--k himself. We threatened him last week, said we're going to quit the job, OK? Then he f--king backed up, okay? So he's being handled. It's going to be fine. I wouldn't lie to you." 

In February, Clarke filed liens against Roshto's bond for lack of performance. At issue was a dispute over appliances worth thousands of dollars. Roshto said Capri withheld delivery to force Clarke to release more mobilization funds. 

The dispute illustrated the complexity of the deals Capri had structured — and the difficulty in holding anybody accountable for work on the projects.

Commercial developers typically require contractors to be licensed and bonded before they can set foot on a job site. Bonds function like insurance for construction jobs, meant to ensure contractors won't cut corners or walk away from unfinished projects.

RF Investments' contract required Roshto to carry liability insurance and a surety bond. In recorded phone calls, Capri tersely brushed off any threat of liens. 

Capri said Clarke couldn't touch the bond because Roshto didn't have a contract in Cleveland. The only contract Roshto signed was with RF Investments. Roshto's bond was meant to cover contractors working on the job, not protect developers, Capri said.

"Ray, you have no contract with Rob Clarke. You have no contract with the land owner. Your contract is with us. We hired you ... No performance bond was provided. You have nothing, OK?"


If the Cleveland project was bad, Pittsburgh's was worse — at least for developers.

Forest City Realty Trust had been burned twice by Capri on Toby Keith restaurants in California and Colorado. It won a $1.8 million legal judgment against Capri's company in 2016.

A year later, Forest City unknowingly was back in business with Capri. It announced a deal with RF Restaurants to open a Rascal Flatts at Pittsburgh's Station Square mall. Construction stalled in a matter of months.

Forest City officials declined comment. But behind the scenes in Arizona, Capri told Roshto the Pittsburgh project was "on hold" because the developer had stopped paying, according to phone recordings.

"Everything is on hold right now because we put in for paperwork that says we are at 50 percent. ... They are jacking us around because they owe us money, OK? And it took (them) six weeks to go tell us that. All the while, all the while we thought it was being paid."

Roshto said before the Cleveland and Pittsburgh projects blew up he'd become suspicious of Capri's stream of assurances. But Roshto thought he could manage it. 

"It's my own fault," he said. "I did this to me. I didn't do my due diligence … I didn't know who I was dealing with."

Roshto said he started recording Capri's phone calls as a precaution, documenting their conversations and saving texts. 

Roshto provided about a dozen taped conversations to The Republic, along with months of text messages. 

The recordings are not date- and time-stamped. Some are cut off mid-conversation. A few last less than 2 minutes. Others are longer than 6 minutes.

The Republic confirmed the recordings came from a cellphone used by Capri. The same cellphone was used to send texts to Roshto.

Capri identifies himself in the recordings and makes references to Costa and Burka. In one, he instructs Roshto to send documents to him at the RF Restaurants' email address. 

Capri's texts span 11 months, from October 2017 to September 2018. They showed the escalating tension between Capri and Roshto.

"I made it very clear to you that as soon as these jobs pay, then I pay you," Capri wrote In a June 28 text. "Des Moines is pouring slab. Boise has stopped and should start back up in the next couple of weeks and St. Louis has never started construction. I'm trying my best to push these jobs as fast as I can."

When Roshto said in August he would contact developers and pull his license from all six jobs, Capri accused him of extortion.

"I'm blocking your number," Capri wrote in an Aug. 13 text, "This extortion attempt is being forwarded to my attorney. Harassment, threats extortion are illegal acts, so is evading taxes."

Roshto denied any wrongdoing. He said Capri was the only one making threats.


Havoc stretched from California to Florida until Roshto made his move.

He did exactly what he told Capri he would do: He pulled his license from the projects. He sent letters in the summer telling developers in Boise, Cleveland, Columbus, Des Moines, Pittsburgh and St. Louis that he was done.

Roshto said the end came when he discovered RF Restaurants had used his license to start jobs in Florida. State regulations prevented Roshto from getting licensed in the Sunshine State, and he was not allowed to oversee construction projects there. 

Roshto said Capri used Roshto's license to rent equipment in Florida and other states without his knowledge and then stiffed the equipment company. Roshto is currently in a legal battle over those costs, which exceed $90,000.

Roshto said he learned Capri was using his license when Florida state investigators threatened to fine him. 

Ray Roshto, Ussher Construction owner
I told Frank (Capri), I'm not a shyster, not a crook. I don't screw people. He said, 'I don't, either.' He's a good con man.

In one of their calls, Capri told Roshto not to worry about the investigation and they discussed taking advantage of a loophole in state laws by moving Yates to Rascal Flatts projects around Florida for 10 days at a time. 

As construction stalled around the country, developers fought to regain control. 

Lawyers in Los Angeles sought to evict RF Restaurants from a project just off Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame.

The owner of the landmark Hollywood and Highland Mall sued RF Restaurants in January 2018 for contract violations. Construction had halted and owners had stopped paying rent, according to Los Angeles lawyer Daniel Goodkin.

Goodkin said the mall agreed to pay RF Restaurants $1 million to build the restaurant and advanced more than $100,000 to the company. But the lawsuit alleged none of the money was spent on construction. It also alleged the company owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in back rent.  

Goodkin said the mall won a $780,000 judgment against RF Restaurants and a restraining order so it could negotiate a new lease with a new tenant. 

In Pittsburgh, developers sued to evict RF Restaurants from Station Square and accused it of breach of contract. RF Restaurants didn't fight the action.

Celebration Pointe in Gainesville sued in October to unwind its deal with RF Restaurants. A judge evicted the company.

Roshto said he doesn't know what to say to developers.

"I told Frank (Capri), I'm not a shyster, not a crook. I don't screw people," Roshto said. "He said, 'I don't, either.' He's a good con man."


It's not just mall owners who said they got stiffed by RF Restaurants.

Contractors on projects said they were not paid for their work, either. 

Workers on the Rascal Flatts jobs shared nearly identical stories to those told by plumbers, electricians, concrete crews and others who worked on the Toby Keith restaurants.

They said they were hired for jobs by contractors working for Capri or his companies; promised payments would arrive as the work got done; pushed to do more work; and never were paid. 

Workers sued Capri and his companies. Even when they won substantial judgments against Capri, payments weren't often made, court records show.

Charlie Morris is the owner of Premier Plumbing in Florida. He said he is among those "ripped off by Frank Capri" at the Rascal Flatts project in Gainesville. 

Morris said he was hired by Yates last year but quickly found out he was working for Capri.

"He (Yates) was 100 percent in on it," Morris said. "Yates was talking to Frank Capri three or four times a day."

Morris said contractors in Florida were promised payments as soon as RF Restaurants got "draws" from the developer. But he said the payments didn't come even after draws were paid.

Morris said he never dealt with Costa or Burka on the project. He said all his communication was with Capri through Yates.

Yates confirmed Morris' claims concerning Capri.

Morris said he lost $25,000 on the job but doubts he will file a lawsuit.

"I'd just be getting in line with millions of other people," he said. 


The Mafia has a name for the systematic dismantling of businesses. It's called a "bust out." The scheme is so widely recognized it was the title of an episode on HBO's "The Sopranos." 

In the show, the crime family takes over a sporting goods store and jukes the owner's credit line with no intention of paying it back. It squeezed every asset out of the store until it went under. A character refers to it as "planned bankruptcy."

Capri's past associates and developers alleged in lawsuits that his Toby Keith restaurants were purposely set up to fail.

Capri's company Boomtown Entertainment LLC opened its first Toby Keith restaurant at Mesa Riverview in 2009. But in 2015, Boomtown went bust. It closed 19 of 20 Toby Keith restaurants in about 18 months. Even as the restaurants went under, Capri was announcing plans to open new ones that never got built.

A pattern emerged. Construction delays, tenant disputes, missed rental payments, delinquent taxes, evictions and lawsuits. Lots of lawsuits.

Was it any coincidence Capri grew up gangster? 

The Republic pieced together Capri’s identity as Frank Gioia Jr. through court records, business documents, background searches and interviews with past and current associates.

As a boy in New York’s Little Italy, Gioia dreamed of joining the mob. 

His father, Frank Gioia Sr., was a "made man" in the Genovese crime family. His grandfather, Nunzi Russo, ran a social club on Grand Street in the 1960s and 1970s that fronted a bookmaking operation.

By his own admission, Gioia was a regular racket boy at 12, loan-sharking, bookmaking, stealing cars and doing the occasional stickup. He first shot someone at 18 and became a “made man” in 1991 at 24.

Gioia testified that as a soldier in the Lucchese crime family, he plotted murders and committed assaults. He said he was an arsonist, shakedown artist, drug dealer and gun runner.

He earned the nicknames “Baby Face” and “Spaghetti Man.” 

Gioia was running a heroin pipeline from Boston to Manhattan when he was arrested in 1993 on federal drug charges. He was facing 30 years to life in prison when he got word the mob was plotting to kill his father.

He reached out to the FBI and made a deal to cooperate.


Costa has identified herself as Capri's girlfriend and the mother of two of his children.

She served as Capri's go-between in interviews and in 2017 agreed to deliver documents to him at their shared home.

Costa took over as manager for Boomtown's last remaining Toby Keith restaurant near Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., last year. She appeared at a public meeting shortly afterward to assure public officials the restaurant was in good hands. (It closed abruptly in January.)    

And she is accused in a lawsuit of helping Capri defraud creditors by transferring his upscale Scottsdale condominium to a shell company.

But Costa last year sought to minimize her involvement with Capri, suggesting whatever relationship they'd once had was over. She also said she had "no knowledge whatsoever" about his Mafia past.

"While they at one point in time had a personal relationship ... Ms. Costa is and was not Mr. Capri's girlfriend," a lawyer representing Costa wrote in a Jan. 24, 2018, letter to The Republic.

The letter, sent at the same time Costa and Burka were ramping up development of Rascal Flatts restaurants, sought to remove her name from Republic stories involving Capri. Not just because of her business interests, but because of her charity work.

"Although she does so without much fanfare, Ms. Costa is passionate about helping children, especially those who are sick," the lawyer wrote. "She personally holds charity events supporting the West Valley Crisis Center, and regularly partners with St. Jude's."

He said Costa helps raise money for Phoenix Children's Hospital and sponsors local elementary and high school parent associations through her businesses.

In 2017, Costa initiated calls to The Republic posing as other people to gather information for Capri. She later acknowledged the ruse and described herself as Capri's girlfriend and his facilitator.

"I can't make him do anything," she said in one of several phone calls. "I'm just his messenger."

Costa in June obtained a license to sell real estate in Arizona and is listed as a salesperson with a Phoenix residential real estate firm.

Michael Stone said his experience working for Costa last year put him on a collision course with Capri.

Stone, the owner of Extergeo Cleaners in Phoenix, said his company was hired last year to service Blasted Barley in Tempe. But when it came to getting paid, Stone said the general manager referred him again and again to Capri. 

Stone is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, and Extergeo is staffed by veterans. In September he filed a notice of claim against Capri and Costa for more than $5,000 of unpaid work. Neither responded to the claim, and Stone said he will file for a default judgment.

Stone said in his claim restaurant staff told him to send invoices and emails to Costa. Stone said when she didn't respond, the general manager texted him Capri's phone number and told him Capri would pay.   

Stone said he never met Capri. He provided The Republic a string of texts from the general manager that included Capri's cell phone number.

"He said he's gonna pay you," the general manager wrote on Sept. 10. "He told me to give you his number." 

There were more promises. But Stone said his bills went unpaid.

Stone said he is another victim of Capri's schemes.

"I really, really want to protect the public and see that justice is served," Stone said. "What Capri and Costa have done isn't right. They need to be stopped."


Mall developers, contractors, business associates, lawyers all ask the same thing: How does this keep happening?

It's a question that has echoed for years from the empty buildings and vacant sites of Capri's doomed projects. How does he get away with it?

"It doesn't make any sense to me," Burka said of Capri. "How does a person like this, who is walking around, affecting people's lives, damaging people's lives ...  still continue?"

Burka said he is busy defending himself from lawsuits but would like to help build a case against Costa. 

In this September 2015 photo, a chain and a lock secure the doors of a long-shuttered Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill in Mesa.
In this September 2015 photo, a chain and a lock secure the doors of a long-shuttered Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill in Mesa. The Republic

"There's damage to me and my business and that's something I never wanted to ever happen," he said. "But there's a lot of things that aren't right that just are. I've learned that, too."

Roshto and Yates said they reported their concerns to federal authorities, and the effort seemed futile.

Yates said he went to the FBI last year in Florida when it became clear projects were going to fold. He said authorities "laughed at him" and didn't take his complaints seriously.

A case that is quietly making its way through federal court suggests authorities are paying attention. 

On its face, Capri was the victim of an embezzlement scheme perpetrated by Boomtown's former lawyer. But the case is not being handled in the same fashion as most criminal cases.

The indictment was waived. The records initially were sealed, and the federal court computer system first contained no case number or references.

In a near-empty courtroom Jan. 15, former Boomtown lawyer Gregory McClure  pleaded guilty to stealing $1.3 million from the company as part of a "plea agreement." 

McClure said he opened a bank account where he deposited "incentive" money sent to Boomtown from alcohol distributors, then diverted it into his own pockets. 

He admitted using the money to support a gambling habit.

Capri has long accused McClure of theft in court filings, suggesting that his actions precipitated Boomtown's financial troubles. 

McClure pleaded guilty to a single count of transactional money laundering, which could get him 10 years in prison.

But his plea deal also includes an assurance from the government in a section called "agreement to dismiss or not to prosecute." 

It stipulates authorities in Arizona will not prosecute McClure "for any offenses ... related to defendant's conduct involving Boomtown Management, LLC and its related entities."

Many of the mobsters Capri helped put behind bars know what that means. They call it flipping.

It's the kind of deal Capri cut to get out of prison back in 1995, when he signed his own cooperative agreement with the FBI. 

For now, it's business as usual for Capri. As he tells Roshto about Cleveland shortly before the project shut down for good, he's got it handled.

"You're not going to be f--ked on this whole thing. Listen, OK? Burka already got on the phone with the land owner, like I told you. My lawyer called their lawyer today. Nobody ain't doing s--t ... Nothing's being done. There's no action being taken, okay? Worst-case scenario, worst-f--king-case scenario, my lawyer is going to f--king sue the s--t out of them and you're going to pull your license off that job."

About the story

When Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill restaurants started closing in the Phoenix area and around the country, Arizona Republic reporter Robert Anglen began asking why. The questions spurred a three-year investigation of restaurant development projects gone awry from California to Florida. All were tied to Frank Capri, a Phoenix businessman. Anglen revealed Capri's past as a New York Mafia soldier who turned on his fellow mobsters and was enrolled in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Capri is now behind another failed restaurant chain tied to a big-name country act, Rascal Flatts. Anglen obtained audiotapes of Capri’s distinctive voice showing how he controlled key elements of the projects. The investigation unspooled through Anglen’s review of business filings and court documents and interviews with developers, contractors and Mafia lawyers.

About the reporter

Robert Anglen digs into consumer issues for The Arizona Republic. His award-winning stories have prompted investigations, arrests and reform. He has written extensively about food safety, nonprofits and questionable charities, white-collar fraud schemes and probate issues. In 2004, he was named reporter of the year by the Arizona Press Club after he tied Taser stun guns to multiple deaths. He has been a reporter at The Republic since 2003. He was only blocks away from the World Trade Center when it collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, and wrote first-person accounts from Ground Zero.

Email him at Twitter: @robertanglen

Editing, digital production: Kathy Tulumello, Rebecca Dyer, John Paul McDonnall, Leah Trinidad
Photography, video: Patrick Breen, David Wallace, Will Flannigan, Robert Anglen
Audio: Taylor Seely, Katie O'Connell, Lauren Aguirre
Graphics, illustrations: Audrey Tate, Suzy Palma, Will Flannigan, Leah Trinidad

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