Liquor license bandit busted!

By Sarah Fenske

Nearly a year ago, I wrote up the sad tale of Robert Stempkowski and Stephen Wolff, the entrepreneurs behind an about-to-open upscale barbecue joint in Tempe called Urban Campfire.

Stempkowski and Wolff had bought a liquor license from another restaurant owner, but instead of completing the transfer, the owner cashed their check even as his son sold the license to someone else. Pretty sordid stuff -- and costly. For Stempkowski and Wolff, the aborted purchase was $46,500 down the drain. It also meant that they had to open without a full bar.

It's certainly been a case of justice delayed, but fortunately justice has not been denied. Last month, court records show, the owner's son was indicted on one count of felony theft.

That's vindication for Wolff and Stempkowski, who spent months trying to get the attention of the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control, to no avail. Staffers at the department even sent the pair to the Phoenix City Council -- saying their best recourse might be to lobby the council not to approve the transfer to the second buyer. Ha! Aides to then-Councilwoman Peggy Bilsten practically laughed in their faces, Stempkowski recalls.

The guy who's being charged with theft, John Giorgianni, has yet to be served. But the court shouldn't have to look far to find him: Records show that Giorgianni pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in January and is on supervised probation. Documents in the court file allege that, after a Scottsdale cop pulled him over and asked for his ID, Giorgianni grabbed the cop's arm and accelarated. Dude, you get probation for that?

Not surprisingly, when Liquor Control refused to act, Stempkowski and Wolff also filed a lawsuit against Giorgianni, his father's restaurant (the now-closed Greasy Tony's), and the restauranteur who bought the license after them, Jose Lopez Sanchez of El Dos de Oro. On April 21, the judge granted the Urban Campfire team summary judgement against all parties and awarded them $28,291 in attorney's fees.

The bad news: With Giorgianni facing criminal charges and Lopez Sanchez failing to offer a defense, I have to wonder if Urban Campfire will ever recoup the money.

The good news: Hey, they won! I think a nice celebratory glass of sangria is in order. And, I can attest, the stuff at Urban Campfire is really quite good.


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