Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese, and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Son accused of ordering murder of his mobster dad seeks release due to coronavirus


The man accused of paying $200,000 to have his allegedly mobbed-up father whacked in the drive-thru of a Bronx McDonalds — while the wiseguy was ordering a coffee — wants to get out of jail to avoid catching coronavirus.
Attorneys for Anthony Zottola Sr. said in papers filed late on Friday that he is willing to put up a $5 million bond to get sprung from Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center and stay under house arrest while he awaits trial.
Zottola Sr. is accused of plotting with his nine codefendants to murder Sylvester “Sally Daz” Zottola. They all could face life in prison or the death penalty if convicted.
Anthony Zotolla Sr.’s attorneys said that keeping their client in MCC also affects their ability to work with him to protect him from the “harshest of penalties available in the federal system.”
As of Friday, two inmates at the roughly 700-prisoner MCC in Lower Manhattan have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the US Bureau of Prisons.
In filing the request, Zottola joins a long list of high-profile prisoners who have asked to be released as COVID-19 tears through jails across the New York City area.
Many inmates have provided specific health reasons — such as age and medical conditions — to justify their release.
On Thursday, for example, disgraced R&B legend R. Kelly, 53, said that both his age and the fact that he recently underwent hernia surgery warrant his release.
But the 41-year-old Zottola doesn’t provide any similar excuse — arguing just that MCC presents a “gratuitous risk” to his health.
The feds allege that Zottola plotted his father’s murder so he could take control of Salvatore Zottola’s illegal gambling ring — and offered to pay $200,000 to get the job done.
The feds say that when Anthony Zottola Sr. would text with codefendant Bushawn “Shelz” Shelton to plot the hit, the two men used morbid film analogies as code for how it would play out — the gunman would be the “director” and Sally Daz “the actor” to be shot for the “final scene,” court papers state.
This isn’t the first time that Zottola has asked to be able to enjoy the comforts of home while his case proceeds.
Zottola previously offered to put up a $5 million bond for his release but Brooklyn Federal Judge Raymond Dearie shot down the request, saying the charges against him were too “serious and disturbing” to allow him to wait it out at home.


Friday, March 20, 2020

Oscar nominated producer acquires life story of turncoat son of legendary recently deceased Colombo underboss

David Permut, the Oscar-nominated producer of “Hacksaw Ridge,” has acquired the life rights to the story of John Franzese Jr., the son of the Colombo crime family’s second-in-command, Sonny Franzese.
The elder Franzese passed away on Sunday at the age of 103.
Franzese Jr. became active in the family business during the 1980s, leading to a life of overindulgence. After falling victim to drug addiction, he was excommunicated from the family and hit rock bottom, living directionless on the streets. Franzese Jr. sought help through a 12-step program, which ultimately led him to the witness protection program as well. He found that the only way to achieve peace with himself was to come clean of the crimes he had committed and work with the FBI to bring his former consiglieres to justice, including his father. In 2010, he became the first son of a New York mobster to testify in court against his father.
With the help of Franzese Jr.’s testimony, his father was sentenced in 2011 to eight years in prison, and Franzese Jr. was placed in the witness protection program in Indianapolis under a new identity. He eventually left the program so that he could finally achieve reconciliation with his father, which he did last year.

“While there have been great mob movies in cinematic history, there has never been one quite like this,” said Permut. “With the canvas of Sonny’s reign within the Colombo crime family, and the complexity of this father-son relationship, the betrayal and ultimate reconciliation is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”
Jared Moshe, who brought in the story, will be serving as an executive producer on the project. Permut is looking for a screenwriter and/or filmmaker to develop the story.
Permut and Bill Mechanic received Oscar nominations best picture for “Hacksaw Ridge.” With this recent acquisition, Permut is further expanding on his slate of true stories, having produced “Polka King,” starring Jack Black, for Netflix.
He’s also developing “Sheela” for Amazon with Priyanka Chopra and director Barry Levinson. The film is about the Rajneesh cult seizing control of a small town in Oregon. Netflix’s “The Legend of Cocaine Island,” another one of his projects, stars Will Ferrell as family man who attempts to dig up a bag filled with cocaine after the housing market crash in 2008.
Permut is also in development on the recently announced reboot of “Face/Off” at Paramount.


Two former Colombo family mobsters launching high end pizza franchise

https://specials-images.forbesimg.com/imageserve/5e6aa4f2e1e61700080e9f4a/960x0.jpg?fit=scaleFranzese in Brooklyn in November: He plans to open a Slices pizzeria in his old neighborhood one day and “bring the Franzese name back to the town we originally settled in. My father would like that.”https://specials-images.forbesimg.com/imageserve/5e6aa55daa5428000759b49f/960x0.jpg?fit=scale
On a chilly, shades-of-gray morning in November, I drove to JFK Airport to pick up Michael Franzese, a former capo of the Colombo mob — one of the famed five New York mafia families. (His father, former underboss and enforcer John “Sonny” Franzese, who died last month at age 103, was one of the most feared mob leaders ever to walk the city’s streets.)
As I popped the trunk of my rental car for his suitcase, I smiled as my mind unexpectedly replayed the iconic opening scene of “Goodfellas.” You know, the one where Lucchese family associate Henry Hill (portrayed by Ray Liotta) opened his trunk to discover a gasping gangster — mezza morta (half-dead, as in overcooked pasta) — wrapped in bloody tablecloths and begging for his life. Offended by that inconvenience, fellow Lucchese associate Tommy (Joe Pesci) plunged a large kitchen knife into the guy’s chest four times to try and finish the job.  
So naturally I wondered what Franzese might do if one of his former enemies had magically appeared next to my spare tire. It was not an entirely unhinged flight of imagination, given that Michael himself was named and portrayed in an early scene in the movie.
Needless to say, however, I resisted talking about my trunk during our drive into his native Brooklyn, headquarters of the Colombo family’s central command. We’d only just met and I didn’t know if he’d find it funny. “I would have,” he said weeks later, from his home in Orange County, California. “I’m a good sport when it comes to that.”   
Michael can play along because he quit La Cosa Nostra (”this thing of ours”) 25 years ago, the first time a high-ranking member simply walked away from his blood oath — and lived to tell about it. (His father approved a hit on him at the time.) Described by feds in the 1980s as “The Yuppie Don” (a nickname he hated) and one of the Italian mafia’s highest earners since Al Capone, Franzese (pronounced FRANCE-seize) has long been a devout Christian with a nonprofit ministry who has given more than 100 talks to juvenile delinquents and inmates in five countries — urging them to stay out of gangs.
He has also parlayed his past into a brand — complete with books, a documentary, and motivational speeches to businesses, schools, churches. “Cook the pasta, not the books,” he instructed budding entrepreneurs in a hardback he wrote in 2009 called, “I’ll Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse: Insider Business Tips From a Former Mob Boss.” He expects to announce a podcast and TV series soon, and he’ll be hosting a stage musical, titled “A Mob Story,” that is scheduled to open in late May on the Vegas Strip. Moreover, he recently formed Wiseguy Entertainment, in a partnership with Australian entrepreneur Tibor Vertes, who once founded a gaming and entertainment company that traded on NASDAQ.
At age 68, Franzese is now taking his remarkable journey to the next logical step — cooking up a tomato sauce that ought to shame the Domino’s and Pizza Huts of the world into pleading with this ex-capo for mercy. He’s teamed with Tony Riviera, a 62-year-old former Colombo associate who quit working for the family in 1989, and built a career in Seattle and other places on the West Coast as a renowned restauranteur (and also speaks to audiences of troubled kids.) They’ve launched a high-end pizza franchise called “Slices” that they believe combines the latest food science and efficiencies with the best ingredients money can buy — to create killer pies that retail for only $4 to $5 a slice.
In December, they were approved for SBA loans, which they hope franchisees, including some who want to turn their own lives around, can utilize to open pizzerias for as little as $125,000 to $200,000 (far cheaper than most of the competition), with just 20% down. They believe that their system will enable franchisees to be far more profitable than others in the pizza universe, so long as they follow the system they’ve designed, don’t cut corners, and don’t do anything unethical.
(Riviera also wants to apply the efficiencies behind Slices to create a chain of nonprofit soup kitchens that would also train the homeless to be cooks in order to help them enter the workforce.)
The first company-owned pizzeria opened in San Francisco a year ago and is typically packed. Leases were signed last week for two more — a combo store/franchisee training center in Los Angeles, and a store in Newport Beach that will be run by Franzese’s 30-year-old son, Michael Jr., a culinary chef who will also serve as a regional operation director. The first Slices franchise, to open in San Mateo (south of San Francisco), was sold in January. “The absolutely hardest thing is to sell your first, because nobody wants to take the plunge,” says Riviera, who previously ran two large food franchise chains. “Lemme tell you, this location and operator — this store will be huge.”  
Yesterday, Franzese was in New York seeing potential investors for next-stage financing for Slices, but wouldn’t spill any beans about who they were, or at least let me bug the meeting. Riviera says he’s reviewing 30 more applications, and the boys have big ambitions: 500 franchises in five years and an IPO. Ultimately, they want a trail of stores that cross the country to New York, where — generally speaking — the quality of pizza seems to have deteriorated over the decades. In part that’s due to rising rents, which too often compel pizzerias to lower costs with lower-quality ingredients.
It wasn’t always that way. In 1984, I flew to Ann Arbor, headquarters of Domino’s, to write a profile for Forbes magazine of Tom Monaghan, a onetime homeless kid whose franchise chain was the fastest-growing in the country. I suggested to him that his Domino’s pies might not make it in a market like New York, where great pizza was as ubiquitous as the Italians who were creating it. But he marched right in, proving skeptics wrong, and perhaps even helped lower the city’s standards with his blizzard of outlets. (In 2009, the president of the chain’s U.S. operations woke up to say what most New Yorkers knew decades before: “The crust tastes like cardboard. The sauce tastes like ketchup… This is an imitation of pizza.”)
Slices doesn’t have that problem. “Wiseguys know good food,” Michael wrote in a text message, demonstrating how he plans to use his mobster past to market the franchise chain. “And wiseguys from New York certainly know good pizza.”  
The message included a winking face emoji.
Well… holy mozzarella?  With RICO prosecutions having all-but-obliterated the Italian mafia, is this where we are in 2020? — a caporegime who was being groomed at one point to be the godfather today enjoys sending happy faces – sometimes super-endearing ones that blow a tiny red-hearted kiss. (Don’t get excited; not the Michael Corleone-type kiss.) At least he retains his deep voice and Brooklyn dialect, but, disappointing to me, he no longer uses any swear words.
Can this thing of theirs actually take off? After hearing a lot about their formula and sampling the merchandise, and given Franzese’s lifelong acumen for making big dough (not to mention having the energy level of a man half his age), you don’t want to place any street bets against these guys. Also key to the recipe: Riviera’s experience developing restaurant concepts — he’s owned and operated over 100 joints through the decades, from a 58-store pizza chain (40 of which were franchises), to trendy food halls, steakhouses, even Canada’s first burrito chain. “With Slices, I have a great concept that I think the world’s gonna love,” he says.
Pizza, of course, is a crowded marketplace dominated at the top by the Domino’s, Pizza Huts, Little Caesars and Papa John’s of the world – known as QSRs (Quick Service Restaurants) — that seem devoted to a lifetime of committing crimes against flour, cheese and sauce. In terms of bad-guy branding, the 465-store faux-named Godfather’s Pizza chain, marketed as “A Pizza You Can’t Refuse” (yeah right) has its roots in, ummmm,  Nebraska?  Its felony:  Employing enough cheese to choke a real gangster to death. On the other hand, Americans digest about 100 acres of pizza per day (in many cases, indigest), and there’s always room for more rivalry. Case in point: The successful Blaze and MOD Pizza chains, in what is known as the “fine casual” sector, designed with atmospheres that customers are expected to hang around in.
But it’s the QSR sector’s in-and-out turf that Slices’ owners want to poach on, and they’ve wisely kept the name generic so as not to overkill. What Riviera did was take years “to develop something that was painless to today’s entrepreneur and business owner,” he explains, “combining state-of-the-art food technology and food science to compete on the world stage — and at the same time minimize the amount of labor needed to maximize profitability.” He traveled to seven cities in Italy, he says, to sample the best pizzerias and locate the best available ingredients and equipment, capped by trips to France and Spain to study the best bread-making techniques in those lands. “My father was a master baker in Brooklyn, so I understood the bread-baking process better and different techniques better than most people.”
Tony’s first job in food service was as a pizzamaker at Armando’s, one of the oldest pizzerias in Flatbush — at age 11. Unfortunately, his life took a bad turn around that same time period. Riviera and Franzese served in different Colombo family crews, both of which reported to Michael’s father, Sonny. Riviera was known as “Tony Sticks,” because he worked as the stickman (the one who calls out the dice rolls in craps games and then reels them back to the shooter) at mob-run illegal gambling parlors. He was also involved in what became known as the “payola scandal” in the record industry, in which radio DJs were paid cash bribes to play certain songs.
But unlike Michael, Tony never became a made member. And, unlike his old friend, he doesn’t like to talk about his life in the mob. “Let Mikey be the gangster, I’ll be the pizza man,” he says with a laugh. But he feels compelled to lecture and mentor kids in various institutions. “I tell them about the gang life in Brooklyn, and get them to understand that the life is not as glorious as you may think,” says Tony. “And that you can’t always be a victim, that people will turn on you on a dime, and if you spend half the time trying to live your life straight versus choosing a life of crime, it will be easier.”
In 1995, he created a pizza franchise he named Tony Maroni’s (after a childhood pre-mob nickname), grew it to 58 stores, most of which were franchises, and announced plans to have 500 within seven years. Unfortunately, that didn’t come to pass. In 1999, he was preparing to sell 50% of it for $70 million to the now-defunct Blockbusters, whose execs wanted to sell his pizza in their video-rental stores. But the deal went into a three-year period of limbo when their parent, Viacom, decided to try and spin off Blockbuster into a separate public company.  Preparing for a rollout that never came, and because he was tied to a ‘no-shop’ clause (which prevented him from selling to anyone else — “Hollywood Video wanted to buy us for $100 million”), Tony ran out of money and filed for Chapter 11.  "Whether it's Tony Maroni or Tony Baloney," he told Inc. magazine at the time, “Tony Riviera's pizza will be in stores on a national basis."
As for today’s Slices, how did he and Franzese team up? They were friends in their Brooklyn days, and saw each other from time to time over the decades.  They got closer in 2014, when Riviera hosted a party at one of his LA restaurants for the premiere of “God the Father,” a docu about Franzese’s spiritual transformation. Two years ago, Riviera invited Franzese and his wife Cammy to San Francisco to taste an early version of a Slices pie. As Michael recalls it, “I said, “Tony, look bro, I’m gonna be perfectly honest with you because I know good pizza and if it doesn’t cut it, it doesn’t cut it.” He and Cammy took a few bites. “Okay, I’m in,” he said.
In terms of quality, Slices surpasses the old Tony Maroni’s in its ingredients. “We use red spring flour that is made in Naples, and the dough we make is a very wet high-hydration recipe that is fermented for 72 to 96 hours, using very minimal yeast,” Tony says. “We bring that flour to life, and that creates tremendous air pockets. We like to say we are the Air Jordan of pizza — it’s that light. But I drove my cooks crazy when we first started to develop. I brought in several pallets of different flour from all over the world — at 65 bags per pallet. And we probably made and threw out close to 1,000 of those bags before I settled on a recipe.”
There’s more:  He imports his tomatoes from Campania, “all hand-selected from the crops we see coming in and processed according to our specifications. Our olive oil is from Sicily. We use black steel pans imported from Rome and the pizza is baked in them at high temperatures. Our ovens, which are run by computers, are handmade in Venice. We call it cento per cento Italia – 100% Italian.”
Except for the mozzarella. That comes from Grande Cheese of Wisconsin, an enterprise that has historic links with numerous mafia figures, including the Profaci organization (which evolved into the Colombo family.) But before you come unglued and scurry for your nearest Domino’s, the Grande Cheese enterprise has been clean for decades and is considered the gold standard for American pizzerias.
On the labor part of Riviera’s concept, he maintains that his franchisees can operate successfully with three employees (and maybe a fourth available as a backup if needed), keeping labor costs to 20% of revenue. Many fast food franchisees hover around 30%. “You’ve been to Eataly [a 40-store chain of Italian-style food halls],” he says. “See how many people are running around like chickens without heads? So I thought if I could create something that an operator can run with two to four people total, this could change the pizza industry. And that’s what I’ve done successfully.”
How is that even possible?  “One at the register, two in the kitchen. Once the rush comes, one employee comes out of the kitchen to ‘plate up’ the slices. Technology allows us to do a tremendous amount of pizza that all come out perfect in a very simplified way. It’s just painless. We call it idiot-proof.” You mean you don’t have to be Italian?  “You don’t even have to be smart.  Any idiot can make it.”
To prove the concept, Riviera says he gave away flyers for free pizza before the opening of the San Francisco store, without telling his staff. “I flooded the gates. I gave away 1,000 pizzas in one day, just to put tremendous pressure on my kitchen and the concept to see if I was right. And we did it with three people. And it ran really well with very little adjustments at all, except to have more product ready to go. Did it a month later again unannounced, and it came out flawlessly.” 
He blind-tastes everything, he adds. “I’m literally blindfolded and my staff knows they have to feed me — whether I’m tasting an olive or a tomato. They’ll try and trick me, and I’ll pick out what I believe is best and I’ll reverse it and blind-test them.”
So the trick is to beat and torture the crew? Got it. “In fact, they were all excited as to ‘Hey, this is great.’ These people are very loyal to me, and I said ‘Look, I believe I could make all you guys pretty wealthy.’ Customers walk out saying, ‘This is the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life.’ We also sell meatballs [$9 an order], and everyone just walks out with their jaws dropping. It’s a meatball recipe I’ve worked on for well over 40 years.” 
At one point, Tony dropped his guard and named most of the ingredients he uses in those meatballs, but when I phoned him to fact-check, he requested I not print them all. (Witness intimidation, to be sure. After all, he was an amateur boxer in his Brooklyn days.) “Just say four meats…”  
So I guess no one gets to walk into the kitchen who doesn’t belong there? “They do, they just don’t get to walk out.”
I phoned Michael right away. “Tony talked with me about the food and the operation. Obviously some secrets he’s not going to tell me.”
“Mmm, hmm. You know I’m sworn to secrecy on that, too, right?” (Oh, great. He quits the mob, reveals a ton of secrets about ‘the life,’ but now he’s serving up omertà on the menu.)
“Journalists have ways of making guys like you talk.”
“Are you afraid?”
“A little bit, yeah. I’m shaking.”
The men shipped me two frozen pies and a package of Sicilian-style meatballs.  “Don’t put it in the microwave,” they both warned (again with the intimidation), with Tony explaining that the excessive humidity would all but murder the crust. “It’s the worst thing you can do to bread.”
The jury verdict? (First, a full disclosure: These guys don’t scare me, so my review is 100% reliable.) The Slices pizza was among the best that both my wife and I have ever eaten — certainly among our Top Five. And that makes me think that if we’d wolfed it down fresh in one of their joints —not after being iced and transported from Frisco to New York — we might give it the Gold. We’ll let you know for sure when we visit a Slices store out west.
And the meatballs? Easily the best meatballs that we ever had, hands down, regardless of having to defrost them first.
See!” said Michael. “Listen, one thing I gotta tell you about mob guys, we know good food, and especially good Italian food. Everything we did, we ate afterwards. You know, the night I got made in 1975, it was at El Doro, Anthony Colombo’s catering hall in Brooklyn. And what happens? — we finish up, six of us took the oath, and after we were done, they had a whole banquet in the next room. So after everything we do, we go and eat. That’s just how it goes.”
Not long after taking that blood oath, Franzese built up so many businesses that in 1986 he was the youngest mobster (age 35) on a Fortune magazine list of the “50 Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia Bosses” — in what the editors estimated was a $50-billion-a-year crime business. (While he wasn’t actually “the boss,” he had a crew of hundreds of soldiers and associates who reported to him.)
His most lucrative enterprise was a gasoline bootlegging scam that defrauded the federal government out of gasoline taxes — by utilizing a daisy chain of Panamanian shell companies. At its height, he estimates that he and his partners, which included Russian mobsters, were selling 500 million gallons of fuel a month, and that he was personally pocketing up to $8 million a week.
He had plenty more going on, as well — car dealerships, nightclubs, a contractor company, a Lear jet and helicopter, movie production companies, insurance frauds, a loanshark operation, a sports agency — so much, in fact, that the feds set up a Michael Franzese Task Force. In the end, his rap sheet included 17 arrests, five criminal trials, and eight years in prisons.
Did the Colombo family own pizza parlors?  (Historically, pizzerias were popular enterprises for mobsters, given that they were cash businesses.) “Not really,” says Franzese, “but look, you lend a guy some money, he owns a pizza joint, he doesn’t pay, and you own a piece of the place. That’s how it went down. Look, I lent money to people who had interests in restaurants so maybe as a result of that I had a little piece of the restaurant — that’s just how we acquired things sometimes.”
And you provided protection to them?
“Of course.”
Who’s going to provide protection to Slices,” I joke. “That’s a good question,” he says, not missing an attempt by a reporter at humor. “Oh boy, I’ll have to wear a different hat and protect myself at that point.” He recalls personally having a stake in only one pizzeria during his mob days that he named Sonny’s Pizza in honor of his dad. It was profitable. 
Sonny was the oldest prisoner in the federal system until he was let out at 100 simply because of his age. As for Michael, despite massive pressure from the feds, he refused to rat on anybody in order to reduce his own prison time. Nonetheless, many of his relatives disowned him, and his father approved a family hit on him, just for having quit. “My dad and I did repair our relationship,” he says. “I never loved him any less nor did he love me any less. Of course it was a little different in that, although I don’t consider myself a member of the life any longer, my dad said my oath was forever. So I said, ‘Okay, pop!’ We had a special, silent bond between us. Very personal. Our love was strong until the day he passed. Of that I am certain!”
Our conversations at one point drifted (of course) to “Goodfellas,” which Franzese praises for authenticity, with at least one exception when it comes to food: The scene where the mobsters are in prison drinking good scotch, while cooking up an elaborate meal of steak, pasta and freshly delivered lobsters — and lounging around in what looks like a spacious private apartment that was free of guards. “That’s not realistic at all,” Michael laughs. “I spent eight years in prisons. We sometimes ate a little better than the rest of the inmates because we had guys in the kitchen and we knew how to get around some of the guards — or let some of the guards eat with us every once in awhile — but I’ve never seen anything like that scene.”
Among those in that absurd Hollywood dining scene was the fictionalized Henry Hill. But here’s something the movie didn’t include: In a prison yard in 1987, recalls Franzese, he spotted the real Hill, who was so unhinged by the experience that he demanded to be put in solitary. “I’m not gonna touch that guy,” Michael says he told the prison’s chief lieutenant, Henry Navarra, after he was called into his office. “He’s got nothing on me. He’s not worth killing.”
But Hill, who at that point in his life was suffering from extreme paranoia — with ample reason, having ratted out dozens of fellow Lucchese mobsters — was transferred within the week to a different facility. (Forbes magazine godfather Randall Lane experienced that paranoia firsthand, when he interviewed Hill many times in the early aughts, which mafia mavens can read about in his book “The Zeroes: My Misadventures in the Decade Wall Street Went Insane.” Lane had co-founded a true crime magazine and recruited Hill to be his mafia correspondent for a cheapo $3,000 per column — my, how the mighty had fallen. Unfortunately, although Hill signed on, he kept losing his mind and Lane ended up whacking him.)
And “Sopranos” — what about that TV series? Critiques Franzese: “You can’t argue with success, people loved it, so I have to go along and say it was great. I’ll tell you what was wrong: If a mob boss was ever visiting a psychiatrist, he’d be in the trunk of his car by the end of the week along with the psychiatrist.”
During our drive into Brooklyn a few months ago, Franzese said that the Greenpoint section, where he lived as a kid, has changed so much that it doesn’t feel like it was ever home. “It used to be all Italians. We owned the neighborhood. Now it’s like the League of Nations. I had 20 aunts and uncles, all on my dad’s side, and dozens of cousins. My grandfather opened a corner bakery in Greenpoint when he came here from Naples in the early 1900s.”
Michael plans to open a Slices in Greenpoint one day and “bring the Franzese name back to the town we originally settled in. My father would like that.”


Husband of Drita from Mob Wives tv show pleads guilty to federal gun charge

Lee D’Avanzo, the husband of “Mob Wives” star Drita D’Avanzo, has pleaded guilty to federal gun-possession charges, the latest twist in the case that began with a raid of the couple’s posh Pleasant Plains home last year.
Lee, 52, pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm while being a convicted felon on Friday in Brooklyn federal court, just one month after he pleaded not guilty to the same charge.
Federal prosecutors hit the Staten Island man with the charge in January after officers from the New York Police Department and the Narcotics Task Force of the Office of the Monmouth County Prosecutor raided the couple’s home at 226 Woodvale Ave. on Dec. 19 and found two loaded firearms, according to the criminal complaint.
The officers recovered one gun, a loaded .38-caliber revolver, on the top cabinets above the refrigerator in the kitchen, while the other firearm, a loaded 9 mm, was found under the mattress in the master bedroom of the South Shore home, the complaint alleges.
James Froccaro, Lee D’Avanzo’s lawyer, did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Lee D’Avanzo is scheduled to be sentenced on July 10, and will remain in custody until then, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York told the Advance/SILive.com
He is facing between 37 and 46 months in prison.
During the raid, officials said cops also found hydrocodone, a pain killer, and alprazolam, an anti-anxiety medication, as well as “two scales, ziplock bags used for the purpose of unlawfully packaging a narcotic drug, a sum of United States currency and multiple cellular phones” in the house, the Advance previously reported.
Shortly after the raid, D’Avanzo was arrested with his wife, Drita, the star of “Mob Wives."
Both faced charges on Staten Island of criminal possession of a controlled substance, criminal possession of a weapon, criminal possession of a firearm and endangering the welfare of a child.
On Feb. 21, District Attorney Michael E. McMahon dropped all charges against the couple. 
"[Drita] was not the target of the search warrant,” said Assistant District Attorney Matthew Gamberg.
Following “a thorough review of this case,” prosecutors decided to drop charges “in the best interest of justice,” said a statement from the office of McMahon.
“Based on the initial evidence, Mrs. D’Avanzo and her husband, Lee D’Avanzo were both originally charged by our office with weapons possession and related charges following the execution of a search warrant at their family home,” the statement said. “After further review, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York superseded our case and indicted Lee D’Avanzo for the alleged possession of the firearms.”
Lee D’Avanzo was also arrested a couple of weeks later in connection to "Operation on the Ropes,” a year-long investigation that busted a total of 24 people in a ring that allegedly distributed marijuana and infused THC into popular candies in New Jersey, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced at the time.
In that case, he was charged with fourth-degree conspiracy to possess marijuana and fourth-degree possession of marijuana in excess of 50 grams, Gramiccioni said in a press release.
It is not clear what role exactly Lee D’Avanzo played in the scheme.
The wife was not charged in the New Jersey case.
It wasn’t the first time Lee D’Avanzo had contact with the criminal justice system.
In 2008, he was arrested in “Operation Turkeyshoot," when four suspects were allegedly caught trying to break into the vault of a bank in New Springville. The evidence indicated that Lee and other suspects attempted to gain access by drilling through the walls of a neighboring building, according to Advance archives and documents previously filed in court by federal prosecutors.
Lee was on federal probation at the time for similar crimes and he pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to 36 months to five years in state prison.
In 2003, Lee was sentenced to 62 months in federal prison on a conviction of racketeering for multiple robberies, marijuana distribution, loansharking and money laundering.
In that case, he was identified by prosecutors in court documents as a member of the “New Springville Boys, a racketeering enterprise with connections to the Bonanno organized crime family.”


Sunday, March 15, 2020

Famous strip club founder turned mob informant accused of sexually abusing kids

The co-founder of famed Manhattan strip club Scores — who later turned FBI informant, helping to lock up dozens of mobsters — sexually abused two Brooklyn kids decades ago, according to court papers.
Michael Blutrich, now 70, was a coach and benefactor of the Shorefront YM-YWHA of Brighton-Manhattan Beach in the 1980s, when he allegedly befriended and then violated the kids, plying them with cash, expensive clothes and jewelry, they charged in Brooklyn Supreme Court lawsuits against the nonprofit.
One victim was 11 when he met Blutrich in 1982, an encounter which led to at least 500 incidents of abuse over the course of seven years — some of which the alleged pedophile videotaped, according to the litigation filed under the state’s Child Victims Act, which opened a one-year window in which to litigate old sexual-abuse claims.
Blutrich was a closeted Park Avenue lawyer in the early 1990s when he used money stolen in an insurance scam to launch the jiggle joint beloved by radio host Howard Stern.
The business ushered Blutrich, a one-time law partner of Andrew Cuomo, into dealings with the mob. By 1996 the feds came calling, recruiting Blutrich to secretly record the mafiosos and ultimately leading to the conviction of John “Junior” Gotti, among others.
He eventually earned a 25-year prison sentence in the $400 million insurance scheme, but his sentence was cut by a third in consideration of his work as a mob rat and he was released in 2013.
Shorefront did not respond to a message. Blutrich could not be reached.


Thursday, March 12, 2020

80 year old Philly mob associate sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug dealing

A reputed mob associate was sentenced to 10 years in New Jersey State Prison for distributing nearly a pound of crystal meth and thousands of pills with heroin and fentanyl with his associate, a reputed member of Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra.
Charles Chianese, 80, of Point Pleasant, was sentenced to 120 months in state prison on Wednesday for distributing two-thirds of a pound of crystal methamphetamine and thousands of pills containing heroin and the deadlier fentanyl, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said in a statement. Chianese had been arrested and charged along with Joseph Servidio, a reputed mobster in La Cosa Nostra.
Servidio previously pleaded guilty in June 2019 and is scheduled for sentencing at the end of the month.
FBI agents arrested Chianese on March 2018 at the tail-end of an investigation that involved all the trappings of a mob movie: undercover drug buys, confiscated handguns and cash and covert recordings from an informant who was wearing a wire.
Together, Chianese and Servidio sold 300 pills containing heroin to an FBI agent at a rest stop on the Garden State Parkway on December 2016, the statement said. Both of the reputed mob members sold heroin and fentanyl pills along with crystal meth to an FBI undercover agent several times, the statement said. Chianese was responsible for distributing nearly half a pound of fentanyl and heroin and two-thirds of a pound of crystal meth, according to the statement.
When FBI agents arrested Chianese, they found a .38 caliber revolver, a magazine for a .380 caliber semi-automatic handgun and more than $25,000 in cash. In one of Servidio’s taped conversations that were cited in his criminal complaint, Servidio mentions purchasing a .38 caliber revolver because the gun left “no shells” as evidence.
“Well not, not to just to have, to use it and throw it the f--- away. … Don’t want no cases (casings) to come out. … A revolver, it’s better off," Servidio allegedly said on the tape.
Much of the duo’s conversations about everything from selling drugs to potential mob hits in New Jersey were caught on tape, among the key pieces of evidence that sunk both the reputed mobsters. The recorded meetings happened at Servidio’s house in Marmora, nearly 20 miles south of Atlantic City, and other places in the area. The meetings were included in the 64-page indictment filed against Servidio.
For three hours, the duo staked out a drug-dealing associate’s home, waiting until the man would be alone so they could kill him, the indictment said. The planned hit was revenge for the unnamed associate publicly bad-mouthing Servidio’s criminal activity. Servidio allegedly was caught on tape in June 2017, talking about how he and Chianese would get away with the hit, leaving no evidence behind.
In a bout of irony, one of the tapes includes Servidio allegedly discussing how one can get away with crimes no matter the evidence. Unless you’re caught on tape.
“Eighty percent of eyewitnesses got the wrong person," Servidio explained to the wired-up informant, according to the criminal complaint. "Eighty percent. They look like the person … so without any corroborating evidence, you can even beat that. The things you can’t beat are the tapes ... with you saying it.”


Saturday, March 7, 2020

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Monday, February 24, 2020

Legendary Colombo family underboss Sonny Franzese dead at 103

John Franzese, who emerged as one of the deadliest, most prosperous and longest-living Mafia chieftains while basking in the company of celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Rocky Graziano, died on Monday, almost three years after he was released from prison because of his advanced age. He was 103.
His son Michael said Mr. Franzese, who was known as Sonny, died in a hospital in the New York area but gave no further details. He had recently lived in the Jackson Heights section of Queens, his son said.
Well into his 90s — an age when most mobsters are retired or deceased — Mr. Franzese (pronounced FRANCE-ease) remained a significant underworld figure, identified by the federal authorities as the underboss, or second-in-command, of the Colombo crime family in the New York City area.
At 94, in a trial in which he appeared using a wheelchair and hearing aids, he was convicted on federal charges of running extortion rackets in Manhattan and on Long Island. He was released from federal detention in Massachusetts in June 2017 after turning 100. The authorities said at the time that he was the oldest inmate in the federal prison system.
Prosecutors portrayed him in his prime as one of the Mafia’s top “earners,” generating many millions of dollars in loot, and as one of its most fearsome killers. In 1967, prosecutors asserted that an informer had heard Mr. Franzese boast that he had been involved in 40 or 50 underworld executions.
At his last trial, in 2011, prosecutors said a turncoat had secretly recorded him graphically describing how hit men should dismember and dispose of bodies to evade arrest. “I killed a lot of guys,” he was quoted as saying in a pretrial hearing. “You’re not talking about four, five, six, ten.”
Yet he was tried for murder only once, in a state court in 1967, and acquitted.
John Franzese was born on Feb. 6, 1917, in Naples, Italy, where his parents, Carmine and Maria (Corvola) Franzese, were visiting. Both had immigrated to the United States from Italy. John was the youngest of 19 siblings — four sons and 15 daughters. His mother gave John the nickname Sonny.
The parents remained with the child in Italy for six months before returning to their home in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, then a largely ethnic Italian neighborhood. His father ran a bakery.
A high school dropout, Sonny worked at the bakery before being drafted into the Army in 1942, shortly after the United States had entered World War II. He was discharged that same year, classified as “psychoneurotic with pronounced homicidal tendencies.” He later contended that the discharge had mistakenly stemmed from his frequent complaints that he wanted combat action to “kill” the enemy, rather than being assigned to kitchen duties.
Back in Brooklyn, Mr. Franzese, a muscular 5-foot-9, prided himself as an amateur boxer and rugged brawler. His street swagger attracted the attention of gangsters in the Profaci organization, one of New York’s five original Mafia families. With a blood oath he was inducted at age 33 as a “made” soldier in 1950. He soon earned a reputation as a “workhorse” and a “big earner” in the Mafia, or Cosa Nostra (Our Thing), running extortion, bookmaking and loan-sharking rings in Brooklyn and Queens and on Long Island.
Joseph Profaci, the head of the organization, died of cancer in 1962, and the next year Joseph Colombo became boss of the family. One of Mr. Colombo’s first moves was to promote Mr. Franzese to capo, or captain, putting him in charge of a so-called crew of 10 soldiers and scores of criminal followers known as associates.
In the 1950s and ’60s, Mr. Franzese, who listed his occupation as owner of a dry-cleaning store in Brooklyn, was known for hosting parties for show business luminaries, including Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. at the Copacabana nightclub in Manhattan.
An avid boxing fan, he was frequently at nightclubs in the company of Rocky Graziano and another middleweight boxing champion, Jake LaMotta, who was the central character of the 1980 Martin Scorsese film “Raging Bull.”
Another favorite dining place was the Russian Tea Room, next to Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, where Mr. Franzese met with movie producers, talent agents and music record executives. He obtained financial stakes in the enormously profitable 1972 pornographic film “Deep Throat,” the 2003 feature film “This Thing of Ours” and the Buddah Record Company.
The district attorneys of Nassau and Suffolk Counties in the 1960s branded Mr. Franzese the czar of bookmaking and loan sharking on Long Island after raids on illegal operations. The New York State Liquor Authority said he was suspected of extorting protection money from nightclubs and bars in Queens and on Long Island. And the New York State Commission of Investigation said he had muscled in to extract payoffs from pornographic peep show suppliers. None of these allegations led to criminal charges against him.
His first felony conviction — on federal charges of masterminding four nationwide bank robberies — came in March 1967. Nine months later, in December 1967, he was the subject of a state trial in Queens on charges of ordering the death of a suspected government informer, whose body, with 17 stab wounds and six bullet wounds and weighted with two concrete blocks, was discovered in Jamaica Bay. He was found not guilty.
After appeals lasting three years in the bank robbery case were denied, Mr. Franzese, in 1970, began serving an indeterminate term of up to 50 years. He was paroled in 1978, but, in a series of revolving-door parole violations, he spent about 20 of the next 30 years in federal penitentiaries.
Investigators believed that Mr. Franzese, on being paroled again in 2001, was viewed as an elder statesman in the Colombo family, which had been racked by convictions and internal feuds. In 2005, Thomas Gioeli, the Colombo’s acting boss, elevated him to underboss, according to the F.B.I.
With the law-enforcement spotlight again on Mr. Franzese in 2011, he was convicted on federal charges of extorting protection payments from two Manhattan strip clubs and a Long Island pizzeria. At age 94, he was sentenced to eight years in prison.
His son, John Jr., was a vital prosecution witness, testifying that he had cooperated with prosecutors against his father in an effort to end his drug addiction and turn his life around. His father had tutored him in Mafia tactics.
Another son, Michael, said in an interview for this obituary in 2015 that their father was “devastated” by John Jr.’s betrayal. Michael and John Jr. are from Mr. Franzese’s second marriage, to Cristina Capobianco, who died in 2012.
In addition to Michael and John Jr., Mr. Franzese is survived by another son, Carmine; two daughters, Marianne Chin and Lorraine Scorsone — all from his first marriage — and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Michael Franzese had been a Colombo capo before publicly renouncing his ties to the Mafia in 1995. He said that he, too, had been taught Cosa Nostra tactics and rules by his father, and that he was aware that his father had approved an edict by Colombo leaders to kill him for defecting.
“My father was a chameleon,” he added. “At home, a loving father and husband, but on the street, a hard-core guy who never had regrets, never would admit to any crime, never give anybody up, never violate his Mafia oaths — a mobster all the way.”


Sunday, February 23, 2020

Feds drop request to revoke bail of powerful Gambino captain

Officials on Thursday decided to drop a request to revoke the bond of an alleged captain of the Gambino crime family who prosecutors say organized a “clandestine meeting” on Staten Island to investigate the death of boss Francesco "Franky Boy" Cali, court records show.
On Feb. 10, an FBI agent observed Andrew Campos, 50, of Scarsdale, N.Y, while taking his daughter to a doctor’s appointment in Connecticut, “with his head down using a cellular phone" -- something Campos was not supposed to do as part of his bond conditions, wrote Richard P. Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, in a memo asking a federal judge to revoke the bond.
Three days later Donoghue notified federal Judge Rachel Kovner that the government decided “to withdraw its motion to revoke the defendant Andrew Campos’s bond pending further investigation.”
The decision was based upon new information, court records show.
“A person’s liberty should not be the subject of the government’s whim,” attorney Henry E. Mazurek, who represents Campos, said in a written statement to the Advance. “The government’s motion to detain Mr. Campos was a scary overreach that could have put an innocent person in jail for taking his daughter to a doctor’s visit.”
A federal judge had granted Campos permission to take his daughter to the doctor’s appointment in Connecticut, court records indicate.
“Next time rather than moving to revoke bail, they should actually investigate first,” Mazurek said.
Campos was arrested on Dec. 5, 2019, along with nine other alleged members and associates of the Gambino family, and was charged with, among other crimes, racketeering conspiracy, including predicate acts of extortionate collection of credit, wire fraud and obstruction of justice.
He was released on Dec. 23 on a $4.5 million bond, home detention and is “subject to electronic monitoring of his cellular telephone and other Internet-enabled devices by Pretrial Services," according to court records.
Shortly after his arrest, federal prosecutors unsealed a detention memo that alleged Campos met with multiple other high-level crime family members to discuss the then-unclear circumstances surrounding Cali’s death, the Advance previously reported.
The detention memo does not detail where exactly on Staten Island the group met.
In the days following Cali’s death, Campos and Vincent Fiore, 57, an alleged Gambino soldier, actively helped the Gambino family investigate the murder, the memo alleged.
The day after the meeting, on March 18, Fiore talked to his ex-wife about the session and his investigation, telling her that he and Campos met with “a half dozen” people, prosecutors wrote in the memo.
Fiore also told her that he had seen the surveillance video of Cali’s slaying and speculated on a possible motive “relating to a woman” who had been at the Hilltop Terrace home on the day of the slaying, the memo says.
Prosecutors do not specifically say who that woman could have been.
Cali, the reputed boss of the Gambino family, was shot in front of his house on March 13, 2019. On March 16, Anthony Comello, 25, of Eltingville, was arrested in connection with the slaying.
Comello has been in custody since and made several inconsistent statements to investigators when he detailed what happened that night in March. Prosecutors have not made any statements linking the slaying to the Mafia.
Last week Comello appeared in court and, during bizarre and rambling 20-second monologue, said his phone had contained information on human sex-trafficking and drug smuggling.
Then, in quick succession, Comello referenced Australia, Russia and Ukraine, as well as “Operation Mockingbird,” without further details.


Feds drop charges against Drita from Mob Wives but plan to go after her husband

“Mob Wives” star Drita D’Avanzo and her allegedly mob-connected husband were cleared on state drug and weapons charges Friday, following a raid at her Staten Island home last year, The Post has learned.
But so-called goodfella Lee D’Avanzo still has the feds to deal with.
Staten Island prosecutors dropped the 17 felony and misdemeanor counts — including criminal possession of a controlled substance, criminal possession of a weapon, and acting in a manner injurious to a child under 17 — on Friday morning, according to attorneys and the district attorney’s office.
The couple was charged on Dec. 20 after cops raided their Pleasant Plains home and turned up two loaded Smith & Wesson firearms, pain killers and a large stash of marijuana — which could have been accessed by their 12-year-old daughter — according to the criminal complaint.
However, Lee D’Avanzo still faces a federal gun charge for possessing a gun while being a convicted felon, court records show.
D’Avanzo, who served time for bank robbery, was arraigned in the Eastern District of New York on the indictment Monday, where he pleaded not guilty, according to court records and his attorney.
A spokesman for the Staten Island District Attorney said in a statement the Eastern District “superseded our case” and dismissed the charges against  D’Avanzo’s wife “in the interest of justice” because she was not the target of the search warrant.
His attorney, James Froccaro, reiterated D’Avanzo’s innocence Friday, adding that he was “very happy” for the case to be tossed against his client’s wife, Drita D’Avanzo.
Drita D’Avanzo’s attorney declined to comment beyond confirming the charges were dropped.
Drita starred in the VH1 reality-TV show “Mob Wives” that was canceled in 2016 after six seasons.
Her husband is accused of “leading the Bonanno and Colombo crime family farm team,” according to her biography page.


Saturday, February 15, 2020

Jailed Gambino mobster uses turncoat Gambino underboss in bid for freedom

An 86-year-old reputed Gambino wiseguy doing time for a murder he insists he didn’t commit is trying to get his conviction tossed — with a little help from Mafia turncoat Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano.
Frank “Frankie Loc” Locascio, a Gambino underboss during the reign of “Dapper Don” John Gotti, filed papers in Brooklyn federal court on Thursday to overturn his conviction for the 1990 slaying of purported mobster Louis DiBono in a World Trade Center parking garage.
Included in Locascio’s papers is a signed statement from Gravano, in which the infamous La Cosa Nostra snitch said that he neglected to tell prosecutors that Locascio was not involved with DiBono’s murder while testifying at trial.
Gravano’s statement came to light in November 2018 and on Wednesday, a federal appeals court in Manhattan issued an order allowing the statement to be admitted as new evidence in Locascio’s case.
“Frank Locascio had no role in the planning of, nor did he participate in any way in the murder or conspiracy to murder Louis DiBono,” The Bull’s statement reads.
In fact, the mob rat claims, Locascio tried to save DiBono’s life.
Gotti wanted DiBono dead because he kept failing to show up to meetings with Gotti. But in a recorded conversation from 1989, Locascio can be heard trying to calm Gotti down, assuring the skipper that DiBono would fork over $50,000 to make up for his absenteeism, the court papers state.
“Shortly after this conversation, Gotti told me that he strongly resented Locascio’s suggestion that he take the money and forget about killing DiBono,” Gravano’s statement reads.
Gravano said that Locascio’s failed attempt to spare DiBono’s life cost him his number-two spot in the Gambino crime family — Gravano said he was bumped up to underboss and Locascio was demoted to “acting consigliere.”
Both the US Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn and Locascio’s lawyer declined to comment on the filing.
Gotti died in 2003 in a Missouri prison.
Gravano confessed to being involved with 19 murders as part of his deal with the feds. He did a 15-year prison stint for dealing ecstasy and was released in 2017.


Sunday, February 9, 2020

Young man accused of killing Gambino family boss rants about conspiracies in court

The Q-Anon conspiracy theorist accused of killing a Mafia kingpin ranted wildly in court on Friday about an alleged CIA program called “Operation Mockingbird” and possessing evidence of global crime syndicates.
Anthony Comello, 25, said during a hearing on Staten Island that he has evidence stored on his phone of worldwide human-trafficking and drug-smuggling rings.
“I just want to say there is a lot on my phone and a lot of data about drug smuggling, human sex trafficking all over the country,” Comello said.
“I have everything from Australia to Ukraine to Italy to … Russia,” he continued.
Comello launched into the bizarre screed after his lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, asked Staten Island Supreme Court Justice William Garnett if his client could speak in court.
“Good luck, Wanda. Operation Mockingbird,” Comello said to Assistant District Attorney Wanda DeOliveira.
Operation Mockingbird was an alleged CIA program that used journalists to spread propaganda.
Comello — who is pursuing an insanity defense — is accused of killing the 53-year-old Francesco “Frank Boy” Cali in a brazen assassination in front of the purported Gambino boss’s house in Todt Hill.
Comello, who once appeared in court with symbols associated with the far-right “Q-Anon” conspiracy inked on his palm, allegedly confessed to the hit on Cali after his arrest.
But Comello’s possible motives for allegedly putting 11 rounds into the Gambino boss have been scattershot.
Following his arrest, law enforcement sources said that Comello allegedly killed Cali because the Mafia don wouldn’t let Comello date his daughter.
But in a court appearance in July, Comello’s lawyer said that his client was rubbing out someone he thought was a “prominent member of the ‘deep state’” — and that he pulled the trigger after failing to pull off a ‘citizen’s arrest.’
Garnett has ordered Comello to be interviewed by a psychiatrist on Monday — but Gottlieb said Comello is declining to comply with the order.
Cali’s death sent shockwaves through La Cosa Nostra — and touched off a brief whodunit for police, who initially suspected that the assassination was part of an intra-Mob struggle between Americans and Sicilians.
Federal agents allegedly picked up chatter on wiretaps put up on a few Gambino soldiers as part of a separate criminal investigation into the family that the don’s death could allow them to move up in the ranks.
In an intercepted conversation between Gambino soldiers Vincent Fiore and James Ciaccia, Fiore said Cali’s death “a good thing” because they both reported to a capo power whose star might rise within the family, court papers say.
Comello is due back in court on April 20.


Turncoat Lucchese family solder busted for fraud schemes in Arizona

A former Mafia soldier in Arizona who orchestrated the nationwide collapse of two star-powered country restaurant chains has been indicted on federal fraud charges.
Frank Capri, who was behind the financial failure of Toby Keith and Rascal Flatts-branded restaurants from Hawaii to Florida, was arrested Wednesday.
The Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office announced that Capri, 52, his mother, Debbie Corvo, 68, and an unnamed third person were indicted by a federal grand jury on Jan. 28 on 16 counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering.
Capri is the focus of an ongoing investigation by The Arizona Republic that began in 2015. The Republic exposed Capri as an ex-mobster who was given a new identity through the Federal Witness Protection Program and used it to bilk developers out of millions of dollars.
Capri, whose real name is Frank Gioia Jr., was a former soldier in New York's notorious Lucchese crime family. He flipped to become a government witness in the 1990s. He moved to Arizona in the early 2000s, where he made a name for himself as a real estate and restaurant developer. 
Capri could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. 

Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts eatery failures

The Republic documented how Capri's restaurant career was built on failures. He is known for the epic collapse of a nationwide chain of Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill restaurants, which went under in 2015 amid allegations of fraud and theft. 
Capri or his companies negotiated deals to build Toby Keith restaurants with mall owners and developers throughout the United States, then took tens of millions of dollars meant to pay for construction and walked away, The Republic reported.
Capri's company, Boomtown Entertainment, built 20 Toby Keith restaurants beginning in 2009 and announced plans to build 20 more that never opened. It closed 19 restaurants in about 18 months. Even as restaurants went under, Capri was announcing plans to open new ones that never got built.
By 2017, judges in cities across the country ordered him or his companies to pay at least $65 million in civil judgments. It is unclear how many judgments were paid or settled.
Capri's mother, Corvo, was involved in Boomtown.
A 2007 report prepared by private investigators in a Maricopa County case documented Capri's entry into the Federal Witness Protection Program along with his father, mother, sister and brother-in-law.
Capri also was behind the financial ruin of 19 Rascal Flatts restaurant projects. Capri's name does not appear on corporate documents tied to the Rascal Flatts restaurants. But working from behind the scenes, he oversaw hiring, firing, employee payments, permits, construction schedules and collection of development fees, The Republic found.
The restaurants were operated by Tawny Costa, Capri's longtime girlfriend and the mother of two of his children.

Girlfriend admits fronting businesses

Costa admitted in March to serving as Capri's front for the Rascal Flatts projects.
In a series of texts to The Republic, Costa said Capri and a business partner set up and secretly ran Rascal Flatts restaurant projects in her name. She said Capri manipulated her into putting her name on corporation and business records for restaurants.
Costa was one of two managers listed on corporation filings for RF Restaurants, the Las Vegas-based company that owned and operated the restaurant projects. 
Secretly recorded audiotapes of Capri's phone calls provided a vivid picture of his role. In the profanity-laced recordings obtained by The Republic, Capri threatens and intimidates developers in an attempt to squeeze cash out of the Rascal Flatts projects.
Money meant to pay for construction went directly to Capri and Costa, the audiotapes, text messages and interviews showed.
Developers paid millions to lure RF Restaurants to malls. They offered up-front cash to offset construction costs in exchange for signing long-term leases. They got vacant buildings, incomplete projects and lawsuits. 
Only one Rascal Flatts restaurant, in Stamford, Connecticut, opened in 2017. It closed a year later. 
Developers in Stamford accused RF Restaurants of failing to pay more than $1.1 million in rent. Lawsuits followed the shutdown of RF Restaurants' projects in Pittsburgh, Gainesville, Florida, and Hollywood, California. 
Projects in other cities fell behind schedule and collapsed.
Between them, Capri and Costa have orchestrated the failure of 63 restaurant projects since 2013 that either closed after opening, were left unfinished or never started; 39 under Capri and 24 under Costa's name, according to a Republic tally.
Their business strategy appeared to evolve in 2019 from nationwide chains of celebrity-themed eateries to individual restaurants and bars. The Republic in December documented Costa's plans for a new restaurant in the Arcadia area of Phoenix.

Mafia turncoat to businessman

Gioia was a third-generation mobster. Mafia historians call him one of the most important government witnesses ever to testify against the mob.
The Republic in 2017 documented Gioia's transition to Capri, from gangster to witness to businessman.
His cooperation with law enforcement led to the conviction of more than 70 Mafia figures in the 1990s and 2000s. He helped clear several unsolved murders, including the shooting of an off-duty police officer.
Gioia became a "made man" in 1991 and has testified about his past as a murderer, drug dealer, gun runner, arsonist, loan shark, stickup artist and enforcer.
Gioia was arrested in 1993 on federal drug charges. He was facing 30 years to life in prison when he got word the mob was plotting to kill his father. He contacted the FBI, told agents he was willing to talk and signed a deal to cooperate with the government.
Capri maintains stories about his past are "false and defamatory" but has offered no proof to support his claims. In a 2017 letter, he denied pocketing development money and described the Toby Keith closures as nothing "other than the product of a business failure."

Feds mum on mob ties 

The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice for years have declined to answer questions about Capri or the trail of financial destruction that followed him out of the Witness Protection Program. 
But the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office in 2019 launched a criminal case against Capri's former lawyer at Boomtown. 
Gregory McClure took a plea deal after being indicted on charges he stole $1.3 million from the company.
As part of a cooperative agreement, McClure was charged with a single count of money laundering, and authorities agreed not to prosecute him for any other offenses related to Boomtown.
His sentencing date was repeatedly pushed back last year and is now scheduled for sometime in March, court documents show. 
The U.S. Attorney's Office did not name McClure or Costa in its announcement on Wednesday.
A copy of the indictment was not immediately available.
Capri's trial is currently scheduled for April 7.