DeGraff, before Aspen liquor board, discusses pending lawsuits
ASPEN – Scott DeGraff, a restaurateur who has been entangled in a number of lawsuits and property liens from contractors who say he hasn’t paid them, applied for a liquor license for his newest venture before a skeptical Aspen Liquor License Authority on Tuesday.
DeGraff faces lawsuits from more than 24 local businesses over his alleged failure to pay debts.
Before the authority Tuesday, he defended his decision to withhold payments, saying a number of extreme circumstances, including landlords failing to front promised money and the recession, hampered his ability to pay.
He also said his accusers had overcharged him in many cases, adding that he had never failed to pay a legitimate debt.
“When someone gives you a bill for $50,000 that should have been $5,000, you don’t pay $50,000,” he told the liquor license board.
DeGraff’s new restaurant, Junk Aspen, a product of his LLC, Junk, is the successor of the failed Snowmass location of the same name, which was placed in receivership late last year after contractors had filed more than $1 million in liens against him.
The body tabled its debate over whether to grant the license to July 20.
Authority members asked DeGraff, whose new restaurant is being built in the former D19 in Aspen spot and has been the subject of several red tags, to provide proof that he has responded to the numerous allegations, which were voiced to the board during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“We’re trying not to deny this,” said Bill Murphy, the liquor license authority’s chairman, to a disappointed DeGraff, his wife Liza and DeGraff’s Aspen attorney, Alan Feldman. The board voted 3-2 not to approve the license until it has further information.
The board said it needed to establish that DeGraff has good character, citing rules that govern liquor licensing entities, and that it needed to review the responses DeGraff provided to his litigators.
Murphy and board members Gary Esary and Peter Helburn voted against approving the application, but Larry Winnerman said the pending litigation has nothing to do with approving the license.
“That’s not our business,” Winnerman said.
“It is if it goes to an issue of character,” Murphy said.
Andrew Neddleton, the contractor of record from DeGraff’s current contractor, Rocky Mountain Woodworkers, as well as former colleagues of DeGraff’s, showed up to support him Tuesday.
Mark Hunt, the property owner who is financing construction of the restaurant, said DeGraff’s past should not factor into the board’s decision, adding that what is most important is getting “some life back into that corner.”
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