This is a story of the mafia, of fraud, of the witness protection program, and two failed restaurant chains affiliated with popular country-influenced bands:
It’s a very long read, but if you’re interested I’d highly recommend checking out the Robert Anglen piece in the Arizona Republic. And if nothing else, it showcases the value of investigative journalism (particularly in light of massive layoffs continuing to sweep through the media industry).
Here’s the short version:
- 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.
There’s so much out of pop culture and crime fiction lore in this story that it’s hard to believe that it’s real, though it reminds that the source material for many stories are pulled from actual events. Goodfellas is the best example here as it so often is, and indeed the final scene of the movie features a finally-turned-snitch Henry Hill in a suburban-looking clime complaining about the loss of the high life that he once led. And as it turned out, Hill too continued to be embroiled in criminal activity after he entered the program.
My Blue Heaven, a middling but passably watchable if you’re home sick kind of movie from 1990 (improbably) starring Steve Martin as a wiseguy who’s awaiting trial and Rick Moranis as the federal agency assigned to watch him, is essentially a satire of that final Goodfellas sequence. Think lots of “it fell off a truck!”-type humor with bad east cost tough guy-type accents.
Yet more pop culture, pull quote from the piece:
- 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.”
That bust out story arc from The Sopranos is incredibly powerful and memorable. Images of Tony’s distraught “friend” (Robert Patrick as David Scatino) sleeping in a camping tent within his about to be fully busted out sporting goods store still haunts me.
Central to the Capri story is lots and lots of fraud, with Capri orchestrating upfront payments for building contracts and then bailing out before contracted work was completed as promised. This reminds me of the fiendishly clever reality show, Catch a Contractor, which was hosted by carpenter turned comic force and “pirate ship”-owning podcast magnate Adam Carolla. The premise is that Adam and a few other contractors would find homeowners who had been badly defrauded by contractors and then orchestrate a “sting” operation that is equal parts To Catch a Predator (which Catch a Contractor plays off of) and an HGTV fixer upper show.
The Arizona Republic piece ends on a section called, “How Does This Keep Happening?” It’s a great question in that it’s appalling that deception and fraud at this level can happen in the U.S. these days, particularly for an ex-mafioso who’s already “cooperated” with the government to clear him of a “past as a murderer, drug dealer, gun runner and leg breaker.”
As if murdering, drug dealing, gun running, and a future as a world class defrauder isn’t enough… leg breaker!
And I couldn’t help thinking about a famous real estate developer who went on to serve in public office when reading things like:
- 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.
Finally, I kept thinking about the notion of popular country artists lending their names to themed restaurants. It’s actually been a thing for a while. For example, I recall my parents enjoying a local Kenny Rogers Roasters on Long Island, New York back in the early 1990s or so.
And on that note, to round out a pretty surreal story, here’s Kenny Rogers fronting a band called The First Edition back in the psychedelic day (and hat tip here to Carolla for turning me onto this) with their hit song, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).”
This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.