Colorful History Ends With Closing Of Mario's

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One of Payson's oldest dining and drinking establishments closed its doors Tuesday.

Mario's Restaurant is no more, and co-owner Jean Conti said that the future of the landmark building on Highway 260 after which Mario's Borgata was named is up in the air.

"It was a necessity," is all Conti would say of the decision. "I really can't make comments at this time. It is definitely closed, I don't know what's going to happen, (my husband) Mark and I still own it, and we're here until the end of March.

"We've had some interest (from prospective buyers) expressed to the real estate agents, but nothing is set in stone and we're here doing the best we can with it closed," Conti said.

Until Mario's folded, it was the second-longest operating restaurant and bar in Payson, outlived only by the El Rancho Mexican restaurant.

If the walls of Mario's could speak, they would no doubt tell some of the most colorful stories in the Rim country including the unforgettable chapter of two years ago, when a self-described Valley entrepreneur who called himself Mikiyo Yonemura announced his plan to buy Mario's and use it as his base operation for catering, banquet facilities, lounge, dining operations, entertainment and gambling.

To operate these "subsidiary businesses" of his corporation, Yonemura said, he would bring 130 employees with him from Phoenix. Furthermore, promised to bring $21 million to the Town of Payson, including $6.7 million to the Payson School District to help accommodate the education of his employees' children.

The trouble was, none of his numbers from the number of employees he said he planned to hire, to the huge profits he claimed he could make at Mario's, to the amount of cash he promised to throw around added up. And very little money ever materialized.

What did materialize, however, was Yonemura's criminal record and wholly fabricated employment, military and personal history.

At the time Yonemura was talking about purchasing Mario's, the Roundup learned of an outstanding California bench warrant for his 1999 arrest for possession and use of methamphetamine, a controlled substance which was just one entry in Yonemura's police record. His police record also included arrests for making a terrorist threat; failure to return 16 books he'd checked out of the Globe Public Library; and failure to return a videotape recorder and four cassettes he'd rented from a Globe video store.

Furthermore, the Roundup learned, Yonemura was of African American, not Asian, descent. And his name was not Mikiyo Yonemura, but according to FBI records Gerald Piersall Spears.

Unsurprisingly, Spears' suddenly disappeared and his "deal" to purchase Mario's collapsed.

"It's over," said Dave Conti, one of the restaurant's owners at the time. "But Mario's is here, and Mario's is here to stay."

According to Jean Conti, the restaurant served its last meal Tuesday.

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