Girlfriend Of Alleged Mobster Faces Renewed Scrutiny, Forced To Close Phoenix Restaurant
STEVE GOLDSTEIN: The restaurant business has long been known as an extremely competitive one, and succeeding in it is a difficult and tiring effort. And if your eatery is mostly a front for alleged mob activity and fraud, the figurative menu looks a lot different. For several years, Robert Anglen of the Arizona Republic has been reporting on alleged mobster Frank Capri and his ties to the now-closed Toby Keith I Love This Bar and Grill and Rascal Flatts restaurants. His latest piece involves Capri's suspected girlfriend Tawny Costa, her ties to Phoenix and Scottsdale restaurants, and an investigation by the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control. So, Robert, we've talked extensively in the past about Frank Capri and his inclusion in the witness protection program and the restaurant business in the Valley and elsewhere. What should we know about Tawny Costa?
ROBERT ANGLEN: What I call Tawny Costa is a frontwoman for Frank Capri. And that's not my description — she actually admitted that to me. She was the woman whose name all of the Rascal Flatts or most of the Rascal Flatts restaurants were registered under. She was the owner on paper of the Rascal Flatts restaurant. Capri controlled them. Miss Costa opened restaurants with the obvious backing of Capri, and she engaged in his, what we call a scheme. And she was involved in 19 Rascal Flatts restaurants that either, one opened and then closed shortly thereafter, and the other 18 were just planned and never opened. And they all ended in lawsuits and accusations of fraud. And some that remained open were two in Arizona. One was in Scottsdale, and then the latest one was in Phoenix, and they were called Parma Italian Roots. And those were operating — Capri was involved heavily in both of them, our investigation found, and she seemed to have skated past, at least publicly, the investigation of Frank Capri. Capri was arrested in February on charge — and charged with fraud in relation to these restaurant schemes. But Tawny Costa was not despite her involvement, despite her admission, despite writing texts to me saying how — and describing her involvement — she's never been publicly charged. She's not named in the indictment. That her, her reference in the indictment is 'Capri nominee.' But for the first time, as you said, not by the feds, not by local police, but the state liquor department has decided that they needed to look into her application for a permanent liquor license. And they've raised serious questions about the ownerships of the bar.
GOLDSTEIN: And you cite some of those in this report by Detective John Barchak. Costa appears to choose when and where she discloses information. She avoids answering simple questions. He cited five violations that could prevent Costa from getting a liquor license under Arizona law, including her lack of good moral character and her capability, qualification and reliability. What does this say about what she and Capri have allegedly been trying to do? Could this lead to, to more serious charges other than just not being allowed to keep restaurants open?
ANGLEN: To answer your last question first, I don't know. But it does appear that the, in fact, it's not appeared — the state is now actively investigating — the state liquor board is now actively investigating her other restaurant in Scottsdale, which shared the name Parma Italian Roots, for the same issues that they raised while they were investigating the application for the Phoenix one. So she, she has — she closed the Phoenix one in the wake of that investigation. And it's certainly possible that she could lose the other restaurant as well. She didn't comply with subpoenas. She didn't answer questions. She gave conflicting answers. And it's really them, some of those answers and some of the things that that liquor detective discovered financially that essentially lay out a case that Capri was behind these restaurants all along and had a strong financial interest in both of them. And what they say she lied about was her ownership of these bars and restaurants.
GOLDSTEIN: Robert, your reporting has indicated, obviously, this is a front in many ways that has deceived a lot of people for a lot of money. Was there at any point that these restaurants were supposed to be legitimate plus — meaning they were actually trying to run restaurants and then they were trying to, to do other sideways things as well? Or was this just a front?
ANGLEN: It's hard for me to answer that. In the beginning. Frank Capri's Toby Keith restaurants were — they were not just popular, they were going gangbusters. If you recall, we had, we had three in Phoenix. But then about 2013 — this goes back to 2013 — they all started closing in succession, one after the other every two weeks. But even as they closed, new ones would be promised or new ones would actually open and then close a week later or close before they, they were finished. And that's when the scheme started unraveling. And that's when I became — I got involved in 2015 looking at Toby Keith, because it was just an unusual pattern of restaurant closures. And, and by the end of — there was this kind of evolutionary arc where it starts strong, looks really popular, people like them. And then at the end it's just open, close, open, close, open, close. And then Capri says it's just business. There — it's too bad they failed. But as he's doing that, Tawny Costa is helping him then with the new scheme, which was Rascal Flatts, and that was just flat out open, close, open, close or never open, close, close, close, close. And then in the end, you have employees who didn't get paid, allegations the contractors were unpaid, developers ripped off to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Our tally is roughly $65 million, which when the feds indicted Capri, they actually used the same number I've been using for years — $64.5 million. So it just turns into this thing. And also, there were, there were a couple of businesses prior to the whole — to Capri's restaurant scheme where he did the exact same thing with, with non-restaurants.
GOLDSTEIN: All right. Robert Anglen, investigative reporter for the Arizona Republic. Thanks as always.
ANGLEN: Yeah, and thank you for having me, Steve. It's, it's great that you've maintained such interest in this story.