Tawny Costa admits to stealing phones from Arizona Republic reporter

A Scottsdale restaurant owner has admitted to stealing two cellphones from an Arizona Republic reporter before he walked out of an interview in 2019.

But Tawny Costa could have the theft charge expunged from her record as part of a deal this month with county prosecutors.

Costa, who operates Italian Parma Roots in Scottsdale, will enter a diversion program, complete a minimum 10-week counseling program and pay $1,239 in restitution.

The robbery charge carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison, according to court records.

Arizona Republic reported on Costa in series of orchestrated failure probes restaurants from San Diego to Boston. Costa was the head woman in a former restaurant chain Rascal Flatts, broken up by a gangster.

Continued:How The Rascal Flatts Group Got Involved With A Gangster In Witness Protection

Questions about the ex-gangster’s involvement in Costa’s operation sparked the December 5, 2019 incident at his now-defunct Phoenix restaurant, which was also called Parma Italian Roots.

Republic Dining reporter Priscilla Totiyapungprasert said Costa agreed to be recorded during the interview, which she ended abruptly when asked about her personal and professional relationship with a former mob soldier named Frank Capri. .

Totiyapungprasert said Costa grabbed the cellphones from a table, then pushed and punched her before fleeing the restaurant.

Holding Costa accountable is important, Totiyapungprasert said after learning that the Maricopa County District Attorney’s Office had offered Costa a diversion, also known as a deferred prosecution, for the charge.

“Obviously I didn’t like being mugged and robbed, but I’m more worried about the people she hurt — and who she might hurt in the future,” she said. “I’m glad the DA’s office has reviewed Tawny Costa’s actions so the general public and the restaurant industry can know who they are doing business with.”

Neither Costa nor his attorney would comment on the matter.

Totiyapungprasert said prosecutors told him the diversion agreement required Costa to stipulate the crime, but that the confession would not be treated as a guilty plea — and would not result in a felony conviction.

Prosecutors said Costa should avoid a conviction because it could result in his liquor license being revoked, Totiyapungprasert said.

The Maricopa County District Attorney’s Office did not return calls regarding the case.

Liquor regulators investigate Scottsdale restaurant

Costa’s ownership of the restaurant is already in jeopardy.

Arizona liquor regulators, who forced his Phoenix restaurant to close in December, are now investigating the “legality of his ownership” of the Scottsdale restaurant.

Investigators from the Arizona Department of Liquor Licensing and Control investigation said records indicated Capri had a substantial interest in Parma restaurants.

They said Costa provided false and misleading information about the liquor claims regarding Parma’s true ownership, the money behind it, and his involvement in Rascal Flatts and other bankrupt restaurants.

The findings follow a Republic investigation into Capri and Costa which began in 2015.

The gated entrance to the Parma Roots Italian Restaurant on Indian School Road in Phoenix

Who are Frank Capri and Tawny Costa?

Capri is best known for the epic failure of its restaurant chain Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill, which went bankrupt in 2015 amid allegations of fraud and theft. He was also responsible for the financial ruin of 19 Rascal Flatts restaurant projects created in Costa’s name.

Capri’s real name is Frank Gioia Jr. He was a “made man” in the notorious Lucchese crime family when he became a government witness in the 1990s. Authorities say his testimony led to the conviction of more than 70 organized crime figures.

The Republic in 2017 documented the transformation of Gioia into Capri thanks to the federal witness protection program. It showed how he used his new identity to build himself up as an Arizona real estate mogul and restaurant owner, then scammed tens of millions of dollars from developers.

Capri, 53, of Scottsdale, was arrested in 2020 and is being held without bond in an Arizona jail awaiting trial on charges of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering.

The FBI and the US Department of Justice have refused for years to answer questions about Capri or the trail of financial destruction that followed him out of the witness protection program.

Federal authorities have accused Capri of using restaurant license agreements with Toby Keith and Rascal Flatts as a lure to defraud developers across the country. They said Capri enlisted her mother and other associates to funnel money to pay for building restaurants in the malls into their own accounts.

Authorities said they used fraudulent documents, fabricated contractors, forged signatures and fake notary stamps to convince developers that work was progressing on projects when it was not.

Frank Capri and Tawny Costa

Federal authorities do not name Costa in the indictment. They refer to her as a “nominee” from Capri.

Capri and Costa have orchestrated the failure of 65 restaurant projects since 2013 that closed after opening, remained unfinished or never started; 39 under Capri and 26 under the name Costa, according to a count by the Republic.

Costa described his relationship with Capri differently depending on who asks the questions.

Capri is the father of Costa’s two daughters. She made appeals to The Republic in 2017 posing as other people to gather information for Capri. She later admitted to the ruse and described herself as Capri’s girlfriend and entertainer.

Costa claimed in 2018 that she was unaware of Capri’s mafia past and denied being his girlfriend. At the same time, she helped Capri develop the Rascal Flatts restaurants.

In 2018, Costa also took over management of Capri’s last Toby Keith restaurant in Foxborough, Massachusetts. She appeared at a public meeting to assure officials that the restaurant was in good hands. It closed in 2019.

Costa describes his role in different ways

Costa admitted in 2019 to running Rascal Flatts restaurants for Capri. In a series of texts to The Republic, Costa said Capri manipulated her into putting her name on business and restaurant business records from Hawaii to Florida.

She claimed she was inexperienced and naive. Costa’s sister also had a hand in Rascal Flatts restaurants, records show.

Costa also gave various explanations about his roles as owner of now-closed restaurants. In publications and interviews, she described herself as the owner of restaurants, including Parma.

When questions were raised about the closures and lawsuits involving these restaurants, Costa said she was only a director or member of the controlling limited liability company.

Court and police records show that Costa has already been arrested twice: once in Dallas County, Texas, in 2011; another in Scottsdale in 2015. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanors in both cases.

The crime diversion program is for people with minimal criminal histories, according to the county attorney’s website. It is designed to reduce the costs associated with prosecutions by giving offenders a chance to avoid incarceration through education and therapy.

Prosecutions are suspended until the end of the program. Offenders may then have their charges dismissed to prevent a felony conviction from appearing on their record.

“Reporter Priscilla Totiyapungprasert was doing her job, asking the right questions of a restaurant owner with questionable connections,” said Republic editor Greg Burton.

“Such behavior towards a journalist is never acceptable. We are happy to hear of Costa’s admission of guilt and the return of stolen property.”

Robert Anglen investigates consumer issues for The Republic. If you are a victim of fraud, waste, or abuse, contact him at [email protected] or 602-444-8694. Follow him on Twitter @robertanglen

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