Frank Gioia Jr. no longer exists. Anyone meeting him today never would know he once was a soldier in the New York Mafia.
Federal authorities erased Gioia’s criminal history in exchange for his cooperation and testimony against more than 70 mobsters. He walked out of prison in 1999 with a new identity and into a new life as an Arizona businessman.
That identity, from the Federal Witness Protection Program, helped him morph from a mobster into a real-estate developer and restaurateur, an Arizona Republic investigation shows. He became the head of a chain of restaurants called Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill.
His success was short-lived, overshadowed by allegations of fraud and massive losses for his business associates.
Documents and interviews show Gioia used his government-provided identity to create havoc. He 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.
Gioia’s business associates know him as Frank Capri. No background checks, no amount of vetting, no financial examination and no legal review would have revealed Capri’s record as a confessed murderer, drug dealer, gun runner, arsonist, extortionist, loan shark and leg breaker.
That’s because the Witness Protection Program isn’t set up to protect the public.
Few controls are in place to ensure criminals who enter the program don’t commit new crimes or create problems for those they encounter in their new lives. There are even fewer controls to prevent them from leaving the program or track them if they do.