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Ames businessman Scott Griffen and the downtown brewpub he once ran, Olde Main Brewing Co., collectively owe the food products distributor Sysco Iowa Inc. more than $200,000, Story County District Court Judge Amy Moore ruled Thursday morning in a Nevada courtroom.
Griffen failed to appear for the hearing, continuing his yearslong pattern of behavior previously documented by the Informer of neglecting to pay businesses for their services and then not showing up to court once they sue.
The hearing was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Fifteen minutes later, after a court aide walked the hallway outside the room calling out, “Scott Griffen?” Moore commenced the hearing by allowing Kenneth Nelson, a Waterloo attorney representing Sysco, to question two of the plaintiff’s witnesses.
Matt Heinen, a marketing associate with the company who lives in Cedar Falls, said he started working with Olde Main in 2010 until Sysco stopped doing business with the brewpub in November 2017 because of the unpaid debt. Before that, he said, checks from Griffen bounced on at least four occasions. Sysco eventually began demanding cash on delivery from Olde Main, Heinen said.
Jeff Porter, who worked as a credit manager for Sysco during the time the company did business with Olde Main, said he met with Griffen on multiple occasions in an effort to work out an agreement to pay off the debt. Meanwhile, Sysco continued the business relationship in hopes that Griffen would eventually start paying down the debt. Porter said Griffen promised to pay but that “never happened,” adding, “He kind of of gave us the run-around most of the time.”
Sysco sued Griffen and LJPS Inc., the company that did business as Olde Main, in December 2018, for nearly $220,000. In an affidavit filed three months later, Griffen claimed that he had previously reached an agreement with a Sysco representative to settle the debt for $30,000 if he continued to do business with the company.
Both Heinen and Porter disputed this claim in court Thursday, saying they never made such an offer nor sought approval from upper management to do so. Porter said he wasn’t aware of anyone at Sysco ever discussing the alleged offer. Heinen said he would have certainly been informed if upper management had worked out a deal.
Moore, who was appointed to the Story County District Court in April by Gov. Kim Reynolds, sided with the plaintiffs, issuing a default judgment against Griffen and LJPS for an outstanding principal balance of $172,950 and interest accrued as of Sept. 30, 2017, in the amount of $32,920, for a total of about $205,870. That figure will be almost certainly be higher once a final judgment is entered that includes interest that’s accrued since September 2017, and after Nelson submits additional documentation itemizing the amount of work his law firm provided for Sysco.
After the hearing, Nelson said the Sysco case fit a “pattern of conduct” by Griffen. “He failed to appear and defend himself, so the court rightfully is entering judgment for the full amount to Sysco,” Nelson said.
Asked if he expected Griffen to eventually pay off his debt to Sysco, Nelson was not optimistic. “Based upon my review of the cases against him, which are numerous, I would be very happy to recover it but I’m not anticipating recovering much of it, if any,” he said.
According to court records, Michael Gilmer, an attorney with the Des Moines-based Davis Brown Law Firm, withdrew from representing Griffen in May but continued to represent LJPS. Gilmer did not appear at Thursday’s hearing either and did not immediately respond to a request for comment seeking to clarify if he remains involved in the case. (This story will be updated if he responds.)
Griffen once had an ownership stake in LJPS but, according to multiple sources who previously spoke with the Informer, he was apparently pushed out before the brewpub closed by his brother, Len Griffen, and sister-in-law, Sue Griffen. The Olde Main property itself was also owned by Len and Sue through their company KCJ Enterprises Inc. until late October, when they sold the property for $1.58 million to the owners of another Main Street restaurant, Whiskey River.
Less than an hour after the hearing concluded, Griffen pulled his 2015 Ford F-150 pickup into a parking spot on Main Street in Ames just outside Corner Pocket, the pool hall he ran until it was closed along with Olde Main in May after liquor licenses for both establishments were suspended for a host of tax violations. (The licenses have since been cancelled entirely.) The Informer knocked on the building’s front door to ask Griffen about his missed appearance.
“What court appearance?” he asked, appearing disheveled as he opened the door. “I’m not commenting on anything.”
After the Informer explained that the court ruled in favor of Sysco for over $200,000, Griffen reiterated, “I’m not going to comment on anything.”