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Sullivan says call for special meeting premature

By Staff | Dec 15, 2009

The Cape Coral City Council is contemplating a special meeting to discuss one council member’s future with the city but at least one key member says the board should take a fair and measured approach.
Mayor John Sullivan said Tuesday evening he does not favor an immediate special meeting to discuss the fate of District 5 Councilmember Eric Grill, who was arrested Tuesday, because it’s too soon.
“I’m not in favor of a special meeting right now,” Sullivan said in a telephone interview. “I talked to the city attorney, and the assistant city attorney, and he’s not even been charged yet.”
Grill turned himself in to authorities and was taken into custody Tuesday on three fraud and larceny related counts, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office reported. He faces one count of fraud swindle obtain property $50,000 or more, one count of grand theft larceny $20,000 to $100,000 and one count of grand theft larceny $10,000 to $20,000.
According to an arrest report from the Sheriff’s Office, all three counts are felony charges.
The State Attorney’s Office must now review the arrest charges and decide what formal charges are appropriate for prosecution.
Sullivan said it is prudent to wait until formal charges are filed and pointed out that the Governor’s Office, which has the authority to suspend elected officials facing criminal charges, usually takes no action until the State Attorney’s Office files.
“So there’s some risk here,” Sullivan said. “I don’t want to be in a hurry and do the wrong thing.”
He will call a special meeting if that is the council consensus but what he’d like, the mayor added, is for Grill to present his fellow board members with some information. Since the accusations of fraud were levied against Grill by two private parties who allege Grill took money for work he never intended to perform, Grill has been largely silent.
Grill, meanwhile, submitted notice Tuesday that he would like a 60-day leave as a council-approved absence.
According to section 4.11 of the city’s charter, a sitting council member can be removed from office if convicted of a felony.
State law also allows the governor to suspend an elected official pending adjudication of charges.
Either way, council can call a special meeting to address a vacancy by filling the seat for the remainder of the unexpired term or until the person charged is exonerated.
Reaction was mixed as council members digested the unexpected news.
Council probably will ask that Grill step down temporarily, said District 3 Councilmember Bill Deile. If he does, council members could appoint someone to take Grill’s place. If Grill does not step down, some on council may ask that Gov. Charlie Crist remove him from office.
In 2006, Crist suspended former Cape Coral City Councilmember Mickey Rosado from his post following a charge of brokering without a license.
“Rosado was one felony, here it’s three,” Deile said.
Councilman Pete Brandt said the arrest was too new to offer any informed opinion, but didn’t think there was a reason to call a special meeting until more information is available.
“I don’t see why, at this point,” Brandt said of the prospect of a special meeting. “We just went on hiatus … let’s find out what happened and talk about it in January. It’s a shame it had to happen at all, but the timing is really poor.”
Grill’s arrest is the culmination of an 11-month investigation by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Economic Crimes Unit, according to a prepared statement released by the Sheriff’s Office Tuesday following the arrest. Their investigation revealed Grill received in excess of $65,000 from two individuals to construct two separate buildings in Cape Coral. Instead, the investigation shows Grill used the money for personal gain to fund his life style and pay bills not associated with the projects, officials said, adding the investigation also shows Grill provided material misstatements to the victims in an effort to conceal a theft and defraud his victims.
According to the probable cause affidavit, Grill’s company Grand Cape Construction was hired by David Malmberg of Affordable Towing to construct a building at 213 S.W. Third Ave. Malmberg issued Grill a $15,000 check as a deposit toward the total cost of the project quoted at $180,000.
The probable cause affidavit states that after several months Grill had not pulled the city permits to start construction and “did not show any intent on doing any work on the property.”
Grill also accepted money from Lisa Johnson, owner of Tropical Twisters Gymnastics, to construct a building at 307 S.W. Seventh Place. According to the affidavit, Johnson gave Grill a check for $2,500 as an initial payment, then secured financing through Partner’s Bank and transferred an additional $46,718 to Grand Cape Construction.
The report states that communication between Grill and Johnson seemed to cease and “months passed before any significant progress began on the project.”
Grill reportedly told Johnson the building would be completed by November/December 2008 however “barely any work except for the clearing of the grounds” was done after Grill received the deposit, the affidavit states.
Lisa Johnson said she found out about Grill’s arrest through several friends who called Tuesday morning.
“I feel justified about what’s going on right now,” Johnson said. “He’s getting what he deserves.”
Johnson added she will now pursue a civil suit, and that the ordeal will not be complete until she and Grill face each other in a court of law.
“Now that we have charges on him, we can pursue it in civil court and request a jury trial. We need to get him out there and get people to understand that this is not allowed,” she said. “He still has to face me personally, I at least deserve that much.”
The city attorney’s office did not immediately return calls seeking comment or clarification on the removal of a sitting council member. Eric Grill’s attorney William Merchant also did not immediately return call seeking comment.
Bond has been set at $36,500, total, according to jail records.