Frank Capri, a former mobster turned government witness turned developer who scammed The Banks with a Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill-branded restaurant, was sentenced last week to five years in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and tax evasion.
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Capri — whose real name is Frank Gioia, Jr. — was a former soldier for the Lucchese Crime Family in New York and was released from prison in 1999 after agreeing to testify against other members of the crime syndicate. He then went on to open companies under his newly government-acquired name, Frank Capri.
Capri’s scheme, which began in 2011 and continued through 2015 in Cincinnati and around the country, involved inflating revenue projections for his restaurants to convince developers to hand over tenant improvement funds for the properties. Capri’s company would then reduce actual construction costs — including creating fake contractors, acting as their own contractor, creating false documents, submitting fake invoices — to pocket the difference between the developer’s outlay and their costs.
Twenty to 40 franchises were sold to developers, but most never opened after lengthy, intentional construction delays. Capri had a handful of companies, including Boomtown Entertainment and CRGE Cincinnati, which failed to pay taxes, racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax liens and faced some $30 million in lawsuits. (That number had climbed to $65 million in judgments by 2017.)
The Feds say between 2011 and 2015, Capri collected some $12.9 million for Toby Keith restaurants that never sold a thing. Meanwhile, Capri transferred millions from his company bank accounts to his personal one, spent at least $2.7 million of the illegal funds on jewelry alone, and underreported his income to the IRS by more than $3 million over the course of three years.
Cincinnati did get a Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, which opened its doors in 2012 at The Banks. But it faced a slew of lawsuits and other issues.
In 2013, Toby Keith’s was embroiled in a lawsuit with The Banks after the restaurant refused to pay rent for several months. The restaurant said The Banks violated the terms of its agreement to make Toby Keith’s the only “Country-themed” restaurant in the complex when it allowed Tin Roof to open. This caused a temporary restaurant closure.
That case settled but the restaurant shuttered completely in July 2015 after continuing not to pay rent. After, former employees filed a lawsuit claiming the bar’s management purposely concealed the fact that the bar was closing and issued paychecks that later bounced.
According to a Cincinnati Enquirer, “The now-defunct restaurant left behind a trail of debt, including a judgment against the restaurant operator for more than $38,000 in unpaid sales taxes awarded to the State of Ohio in 2014.”
Capri deployed a similar scheme with Rascal Flatts-branded bars and restaurants around the country — in many cases, deploying it on the same developers he had just bilked. Cleveland was one of those cases when it was announced in 2016 the city would be opening a Rascal Flatts Bar and Grill.
Because Capri hid his ties to the new company so well, few were any the wiser, and Capri managed to collect more than $5 million in tenant improvement funds from developers for another batch of restaurants that once again never opened.
The developers of the Cleveland Rascal Flatts restaurant eventually found out they were dealing with Capri again when a man named Ray Rostho, who owned an Arizona construction company and who was hired by Capri to front the Rascal Flatts project in Cleveland and elsewhere, told them at one point that they really ought to just talk to Frank Capri if they had concerns, because it was his project.
“I said, ‘You’re going to have to call Frank Capri,'” Roshto told the Arizona Republic. “He was totally surprised. He shouted out, ‘Frank Capri!’ Then he said it again: ‘Frank Capri.’ And I said, ‘Yeah.'”
Capri was indicted by a federal grand jury in January 2020 on 16 charges. He pleaded guilty to two of them last August.
A version of this story was originally published by CityBeat sister paper Cleveland Scene.
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