Aspen council denies restaurateur’s liquor license appeal
August 5, 2010
ASPEN – City Council voted 3-0 Wednesday to deny a liquor license appeal by restaurateur Scott DeGraff.
The hearing, which Mayor Mick Ireland called a quasi-judicial proceeding, hinged on the “moral character” of DeGraff. Ireland said there is evidence to suggest it is questionable. He cited a civil lawsuit from nearly a decade ago in Illinois in which the court found DeGraff had filed fraudulent affidavits.
DeGraff and his Aspen attorney, Alan Feldman, defended DeGraff’s conduct in that case by saying DeGraff didn’t know the information in the affidavits was false.
The application before Aspen was for a liquor license for a new restaurant DeGraff has been preparing to open in the downtown spot that D19 used to occupy. Construction there has been ongoing.
DeGraff is entangled in several legal battles between his company and several local contractors who say he has not paid them for their work on previous local ventures. He defended those accusations by saying he has paid every legitimate bill he owed, while some of the bills were for work that he said was incomplete or unsatisfactory.
“I … believe that when someone gives you a bill and you don’t believe that bill is right, you don’t pay that bill,” DeGraff said.
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Feldman warned the City Council that a denial would set a precedent that any applicants who are involved in litigation would have to be examined just as thoroughly.
The appeal hearing came after the Aspen Liquor License Authority held two hearings on DeGraff’s application, denying its issuance in the second hearing, on July 20. In past meetings, Feldman said the liquor board and the council didn’t have legal recourse to deny the application.
“Good moral character is a criminal issue, not a civil one,” Feldman said. “There is zero criminal history for anyone involved in this license.”
DeGraff has been awarded three licenses in Colorado over the past five years, including for Liquid Sky, a restaurant in Snowmass that failed along with a number of other embattled service industry projects in that resort.
Several contractors and employees of DeGraff have spoken on his behalf during hearings, including Wednesday’s, saying he has always paid in full.
Carter Sheriff, the owner of Rocky Mountain Woodworking, which is building the nearly completed Junk Aspen at the old D19 spot, said Wednesday that all of his employees have been paid on time “every Friday.”
But Rick Neiley, an Aspen attorney who represents Hansen Construction, a firm involved in a lawsuit against DeGraff, said there is a pattern in DeGraff’s mode of operations that is impetus for the City Council to deny the application.
Ireland said that, because DeGraff didn’t acknowledge wrongdoing, DeGraff was not properly rehabilitated, which was another consideration of the proceeding.