Aspen liquor board denies DeGraff
July 21, 2010
ASPEN – At times appearing divided over whether to grant a liquor license to Scott DeGraff, a restaurateur who has been accused of not paying a number of his contractors, the Aspen Liquor Licensing Authority nevertheless voted 3-0 Tuesday to deny the application.
The board asked the city’s legal counsel to draft a review of the case for the City Council.
The decision came after a special hearing in which DeGraff’s Aspen attorney, Alan Feldman, said a vote against the application would be a violation of the applicant’s constitutional rights to due process.
The license would have gone to a new location for DeGraff’s Junk LLC, which is mostly owned by DeGraff’s wife Liza. It is being built in the space that D19 once occupied in downtown Aspen.
During nearly 45 minutes of deadlock in the meeting, much of which was spent debating voting procedure, board member Gary Esary indicated that he would reject the application. He said his decision was based on a pattern of business disputes involving DeGraff that Esary said should be resolved before approval.
“I don’t want to vote on a motion that says [DeGraff] has bad moral character, [but] I do think the existence of pending claims is significant,” Esary said. He was referring to litigation between DeGraff and Bill Poss and Associates in which the latter claims DeGraff still owes more than $117,000 for construction services.
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Feldman said he and DeGraff didn’t know the board would debate moral character as part of its decision-making process in considering the license.
“This is a popularity contest, Gary,” Feldman said to Esary. “You’re ignoring the huge constitutional elephant in the room. … That is ex post facto law.”
He said the board was creating a precedent in which it would have to treat every subsequent license applicant in the same manner. He also said DeGraff was “blindsided” by disputes to his application, which were part of a public hearing earlier this month when the board asked for more information about the litigation.
DeGraff defended himself against the claims that he had not paid some money, saying some of his accusers had used “bully” tactics to get money that was in excess of the services they provided. He also said he has never missed a legitimate payment to a contractor or employee.
During his two decades in the service industry, “I made sure my 100-plus employees never missed a payroll,” DeGraff said. “… I am a good liquor license holder, and I am very, very good operator.”
About 10 of DeGraff’s employees attended the meeting to show support and lobby for an approval of the application.
Mark Hunt, the owner of the property, urged the board to approve the license, saying that if DeGraff is denied the ability to make money from the property, the businesses he owes will go unpaid.
“What I do know is, regardless of what the board decides to do today, there will be no vindication,” Hunt said.
DeGraff must now go before the City Council to appeal the denial, which Feldman indicated he is ready to do.