Scott DeGraff, the embattled co-owner of the N9NE Group with restaurants and nightclubs in Las Vegas, Chicago and Dallas, died early Thursday morning in what authorities in Aspen, Colo., believe was a suicide.
DeGraff, 47, was found dead in the garage of an Aspen home at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, according to Aspen police.
At 5:30 a.m., Aspen volunteer firefighters responded to a carbon monoxide alarm at the home, which did not belong to DeGraff. They were unable to make contact with anyone at the locked residence, and there were no signs of suspicious activity, so police and firefighters left the scene, according to a statement from the Aspen Police Department.
Two-and-a-half hours later, the unidentified owner of the home arrived after being told of the alarm. He called police, who found DeGraff's body inside a vehicle parked in the garage.
The relationship between the homeowner and DeGraff was not immediately clear.
The Pitkin County coroner will determine the official cause of death, but a spokeswoman with Aspen police said DeGraff's death was an apparent suicide.
In recent years, DeGraff had come out on the losing end of several lawsuits and was under extreme financial duress. The most recent setback occurred Oct. 26 when U.S. District Judge Lewis T. Babcock ordered DeGraff to pay almost $4 million to a New York lender. The judgment was recorded in Aspen on Nov. 17, according to The Aspen Times.
DeGraff moved to the affluent Colorado ski resort community three years ago from Las Vegas, where he and childhood friend Michael Morton partnered with Palms owner George Maloof Jr. on a number of restaurants and nightclubs.
Those venues are the Nove Italiano and N9NE restaurants, and the nightclubs Rain, Moon, Playboy Club and Ghostbar; as well as the Palms' pools.
But that relationship ended last year after nearly a decade when Morton filed a lawsuit against the Palms, alleging Maloof interfered in Morton's plan to open a nightclub at Wynn.
"I am deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Scott DeGraff," Maloof said in an email to the Review-Journal. "Scott was a partner and played a major role in the development of the 9 Group venues at the Palms. My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time."
Maloof eventually assumed management of the venues in a settlement.
Both DeGraff and Morton were accused of defrauding N9NE Group investors.
DeGraff, a former real estate attorney, and Morton also were named in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the N9NE Group's former art director, Leslie Culler, last December.
In court papers, Culler alleged DeGraff, Morton and company executive Bronson Olimpieri subjected her to sexual harassment more than 200 times in the eight years she worked for them, including incidents of spanking and groping.
The lawsuit was sealed in March following a confidential settlement.
In September, DeGraff filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, saying in court papers he owed $19 million to a variety of creditors.
DeGraff was even named in much smaller lawsuits from contractors who worked on his Aspen home and from an Aspen utility company that alleged in court papers he owed several thousand dollars for services.
In the end, unable to pay his attorneys, DeGraff was representing himself in court, according to The Aspen Times in a story published Nov. 17.
Attempts to contact Morton on Thanksgiving Day were unsuccessful. He and DeGraff became friends when they met in Chicago when they were both 9 years old, which is how the N9NE Group got its name.
Contact Doug McMurdo at dmcmurdo@reviewjournal. com or 702-224-5512.