Rascal Flatts are a Grammy-nominated, almost offensively inoffensive country band, the kind with songs called “Fast Cars and Freedom” and “Prayin’ for Daylight” and ”Mayberry.” The three members include two cousins and a banjo player named Joe Don, and they all dress like Rob Thomas if he’d never tried drugs. That’s to say that Rascal Flatts aren’t the kind of band that you’d expect to have any connection to a former member of the Mafia, but here we are.
Two years ago, the band announced that they’d be opening their own Rascal Flatts-branded restaurant chain, which ultimately would have been scattered from Florida to Hawaii. But in January, the Flatts posted on Instagram that the deal was off, despite the fact that only one of those locations ever opened. “You may have noticed our name was associated with a restaurant project,” Rascal Flatts wrote on Instagram in January. “We ended the agreement and do not have a business relationship with the developer. They are not authorized to use our name in any way. We wanted to be transparent to our fans in case there was any confusion related to our involvement in the restaurants.”
That seemed to be enough for the band’s fans, who willingly refer to themselves as Flattheads, but it raised a lot of questions for everyone else—especially after the Arizona Republic started investigating those proposed restaurants. In an extraordinary long read, reporter Robert Anglen explains that the businessman behind the Rascal Flatts restaurants is a former member of New York’s Lucchese crime family, one of the Five Families of the Italian-American Mafia.
Although he goes by Frank Capri now, he used to be Frank Gioia, Jr, a third-generation mobster. Gioia flipped on his own family, becoming a cooperating witness and giving the government information about more than 70 members of the Mafia, as well as mob-connected murders, robberies, drug offenses, and other assorted crimes.
“I thought, I figured I had two choices,” he said in 2004. “I either sit there, everybody else is flipping, they go in, they find out things I did, didn’t do, I get indicted, I end up doing life, my family gets abused in the street. Or cooperate with the government, put them all in the program, get them away from these people.”
He got himself away from those people, too: He was enrolled in the Federal Witness Protection Program and U-Hauled out of New York City. Fast forward a few years, and now he’s Frank Capri, a Phoenix businessman who started a company called Boomtown Entertainment, LLC.
In 2017, Boomtown was able to secure naming rights from Rascal Flatts, although Capri seems to have hidden behind his girlfriend, Tawny Costa, using her connections to help him—er, her—form a partnership with Phoenix restaurant developer Chris Burka. Their new company, RF Restaurants, filed paperwork detailing a plan to develop as many as 17 Rascal Flatts restaurants. Only one of them ever opened, in Stamford, Connecticut, and within a year, it had already served its last Shrimp & Polenta Plate. At the time it closed, it allegedly owed more than $1.1 million in unpaid rent.
Capri has form: He ran the same shady scheme with Toby Keith’s restaurant chain, cleverly called Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill. In 2009, Boomtown Entertainment, LLC started building 20 of the Keith-approved restaurants, and said that it had plans to build 20 more. Five years later, 19 of those 20 locations abruptly closed, possibly because that’s what Capri had planned all along. (The last of Capri’s Toby Keith restaurants closed just as suddenly in January.)
“Capri is accused in litigation of stealing money meant for tenant improvements, stiffing landlords on rental contracts and pocketing money meant to pay contractors and laborers who worked on his projects,” Anglin wrote in an earlier Republic piece. Basically, the restaurants were never supposed to be anything more than a way for Capri to scam a lot of money from everyone else.
Almost 50 Toby Keith-related lawsuits have been filed against Capri and his companies in 31 cities, and he has been ordered to pay $65 million to the plaintiffs involved. On top of that, RF Restaurants is facing litigation for breach of contract on some of its false starts, and for failure to pay rent on the others. Chris Burka has denied being “an active person” in the business – and so has Tawny Costa.
“I do not have nor have I ever had any interest or ownership in any Rascal Flatts project," she told the Republic. "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."
So what happens now? Good question. Capri has long denied being Frank Gioia, but because of his “alleged” protected witness status, the US Marshals Service, the FBI, and the US Department of Justice aren’t talking, either. Anglin believes that a sealed criminal case in a district court in Arizona might—MIGHT—have a few answers, but for now, that’s all anyone knows.
Well, they know that… and they know that they’re probably not going to eat at a Rascal Flatts restaurant anytime soon.