Restaurants And Rascal Flatts: Arizona's Ex-Mafia Businessman Story Continues
STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Late in 2017, Arizona Republic investigative reporter Robert Anglen told us the story of a Valley businessman named Frank Capri who also had designs on being a restaurateur.
ROBERT ANGLEN: Frank Capri is a Phoenix businessman. He emerged in Arizona in the late 1990s 2000s really. Frank Capri has no history and he became a real estate developer and a restaurant investor. Who he is, is a Mafia soldier from the notorious Lucchese crime families back in the 1990s. He is a confessed murderer, leg-breaker, arsonist, gun dealer, drug runner. He became a new man through the federal government's Witness Protection Program, and he launched a chain of restaurants, in about 2009, branded on Toby Keith, the country singer.
GOLDSTEIN: And now Anglen is back with the latest development on Capri. As the previous story focused on his attachment to the name of country singer Toby Keith, his new one has Capri and alleged partners working on a restaurant chain with country band Rascal Flatts. So Robert, let's start with a little bit of a recap on the Toby Keith situation and how that moved into something similar with Rascal Flatts.
ANGLEN: He branded these restaurants, he started opening them across the country, and one by one, he had 20, that 20 were opened at least for a little bit. And then one by one they fell like dominoes in an 18-month stretch. And what emerged from that across the country were these tales of development money and blown contracts and broken lease negotiations and the pattern that emerged was that he was opening restaurants, negotiating upfront development fees, cash, to build the restaurants and then not building them and not — you know, the rub with developers was, we'll provide you this upfront money in exchange for long term leases. And so what he'd do is, the restaurants would get half-finished, they would implode, people weren't getting paid on the jobs. Sometimes they'd open literally for just a few weeks, several weeks, before they crashed and burned. And then he'd walk away. And by the end of 2017, as I tracked this, judges had ordered him to pay $65 million. But the total, according to developers, was a lot more.
ANGLEN: And that's the Toby Keith story.
GOLDSTEIN: Well yeah, in your latest investigative piece of Rascal Flatts, there is a former associate of Capri who apparently, he wanted to do something with Rascal Flatts. Then Capri sued him. Was the former associate going to do, going to try to do the same thing Capri was or is he going to try to do some legitimately, do you know?
ANGLEN: I can't answer that. What you have to know is there isn't a developer probably on Earth who would likely do business with Frank Capri today. Not because of his mob history, which in and of itself is shocking, but because of what happened with Toby Keith, because of those restaurant chains, 20 opened, 20 is now closed. He promised 20 more that never got built. Because of that, I mean this guy is an anathema to developers. So when Rascal Flatts emerges, his name isn't on the paperwork.
GOLDSTEIN: Right, but whose is?
ANGLEN: A woman named Tawny Costa and a man named Chris Burka.
GOLDSTEIN: Now the Tawny Costa one is interesting because apparently she had a much closer connection to Capri than other people knew.
ANGLEN: Yeah, she had his kids.
GOLDSTEIN: Okay, that's pretty close.
ANGLEN: That's pretty close. So she was his longtime girlfriend, and her name starts appearing on documents across the country for these Rascal Flatts projects, along with this other guy named Chris Burka. But Tawny Costa and Burka were really fronts for Capri.
GOLDSTEIN: Did Burka know that, as well?
ANGLEN: Burka says he didn't know that.
ANGLEN: And Burka has talked to me at length, but Burka and Costa are now pointing fingers at each other. As this thing implodes and as the exposure occurs, Burka and Costa are now pointing the finger at each other. He says he was a bit player and only had a percentage fee negotiation on revenue. He says she was in control of the finances, that he had no say. She says he's not telling the truth. Burka would say, she used to brag about being the owner, but also say at the same time, these business deals were structured in such a way that she can never be held liable and which gets interesting because the person who's now set up these business, the paper behind all these R.F. restaurants or most of them was setup by a Scottsdale lawyer. That lawyer is none other than Frank Capri's personal counsel.
GOLDSTEIN: Is there anything regulators can do now knowing you have this chain that you've seen through at least two projects but I'm basing your reporting. Is this something that if they see certain names they know that, or can they just start another sort of shell or another sort of cover?
ANGLEN: The question really begs an answer from federal authorities- the FBI, the people, the Department of Justice, the people who put Frank in the Witness Protection Program erased his identity, so that developers would have no clue of who his background is. And the question that gets asked to me all the time is, are the feds just turning a blind eye? I don't know. Because the fact of the Witness Protection Program is they aren't allowed to talk about it. Legally, federal authorities cannot talk about who's enrolled, whether or not they're still enrolled, whether they've been kicked out or left voluntarily, all of which is okay, but that led us to write, as you know, you know, the kind of thread that strung through a very detailed series two years ago was whether or not, who protects the public from protected witnesses? And I'm telling you, there isn't very much protection.
GOLDSTEIN: Robert Anglen, investigative reporter for The Arizona Republic. Good to see you. Thanks.
ANGLEN: Thank you. Glad to be here.