No Prison Time for Griffen in State Case; New Corner Pocket Liquor License Under Review

As two former employees attempt to reopen his bars, the disgraced Ames businessman still awaits sentencing in a federal felony case put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic

Corner Pocket, a pool hall in downtown Ames that's been closed for the past year, on the evening of May 13. Following months of renovation work, the building's windows are no longer boarded up. Photo: Gavin Aronsen/Iowa Informer

Find all of our reporting on the fallout from Scott Griffen’s dishonest business practices, including our exclusive expose from last August, by clicking this link.

By teleconference Monday, disgraced local businessman Scott Griffen was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay more than $162,000 he owes to the Iowa Department of Revenue. The sentence was the end result of a deal in which Griffen pleaded guilty to one felony count — ongoing criminal conduct for financial gain — in exchange for the dismissal of two other felony charges and a misdemeanor, all relating to tax evasion.

Technically, Griffen faced a maximum sentence of 41 years behind bars for the four charges, including 25 years for the felony to which he pleaded guilty. However, according to the sentencing order filed by Story County District Court Judge James Ellefson, “The nonviolent nature of the crime, the defendant’s age, prior record, and likelihood of rehabilitation and enhancement of his ability to pay restitution all favor a suspended sentence.”

The former downtown Ames bar owner continues to owe former employees and other businesses tens of thousands of dollars, if not more. In 2017, as the Informer has previously reported, he was twice arrested for failing to appear at court hearings ordered after he neglected to pay judgments to businesses he’d swindled. Last December, a district court judge ruled that Griffen, along with the Olde Main Brewing Company — a former Main Street brewpub owned by a brother and sister-in-law of his who live in Maryland — owed the food distributor Sysco more than $200,000.

Griffen is still awaiting sentencing on a federal felony charge involving unpaid taxes on employee wages. He pleaded guilty to the charge last November as part of an agreement to pay the IRS more than $150,000 and almost certainly receive a sentence reduced from the maximum of five years in prison. A final pretrial sentencing report was filed March 13 but is sealed and therefore not a public record. Four days later, Robert Pratt, a federal judge for the Southern District of Iowa, indefinitely delayed Griffen’s sentencing date “due to the current situation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Meanwhile, two former employees of Griffen’s, Lucas Taege and James Stolfus, are attempting to reopen his former pool hall at 125 Main Street, Corner Pocket, and the upstairs bar and music venue DG’s Tap House, which was named for Griffen’s late father. On February 26, they had Des Moines attorney Jefferson Fink file articles of incorporation with the Iowa secretary of state’s office for LTJS: Services, Inc., adopting an initial-based naming convention similar to those of Griffen’s past businesses. Two additional documents filed with the office show that Taege and Stolfus intend to do business under the company as both Corner Pocket and DG’s Tap House (as they’d previously said). Taege is named as LTJS’s president; Stolfus is its secretary. The company’s registered address is an Ames post office box.

On May 1, Taege and Stolfus submitted a liquor license application with the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Division that names them each as 50 percent owners of LTJS. The application is currently on hold pending review by city officials, a standard process that includes a criminal background check, confirmation of liability insurance, and a building inspection. According to the city clerk’s office, the two have yet to submit all of the necessary paperwork in order for the review to be completed. Once it is, the application will be considered by the City Council and ABD.

The previous liquor license for the building, which was also shared between Corner Pocket and DG’s Tap House, was suspended for six months in late April last year and subsequently canceled. Griffen himself was handed a two-year suspension. Last December, in an apparent effort to circumvent the extended suspension, Griffen transferred ownership of 125 Main Street to his daughter, a Microsoft developer named Zoey Riordan who lives in Redmond, Washington, where the company is headquartered.

The following month, Stolfus told the Informer that he had cut off contact with Griffen, who “will absolutely in no way shape or form be involved in my business.” However, since he made this claim, the Informer has received numerous tips from people who have seen the pair speaking in downtown Ames, including two photographs sent two months apart. Griffen has continued to go in and out of Corner Pocket, and both his Ford F-150 pickup and a car belonging to Stolfus are regularly parked near the building, whose windows are no longer boarded up following months of renovation work.

Correction: This article initially stated that the clerk of court’s office said Taege and Stolfus had yet to submit all of the necessary paperwork to complete a review of their liquor license. It was the city clerk’s office.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.