Alleged victims react to charges brought against Grill
He has been suspended from his Cape Coral City Council seat and faces one felony charge punishable by up to five years in prison, but Eric Grill’s alleged victims are seeking a harsher penalties.
Lisa Johnson, owner of Tropical Twisters Gymnastics, claims that Grill stole more than $50,000 from her for construction work that his company never completed. He allegedly did the same to David and Shirley Malmberg, owners of Affordable Towing and Storage, bilking the couple out of $15,000.
“We tried to settle this without it going this far,” David Malmberg said Thursday. “We tried to work it out with him. We didn’t want it to become public and get as big as this.”
But Grill ignored their telephone calls, he said. The couple then learned the council member had reportedly taken money from another person, Johnson.
“It just didn’t work out,” Malmberg said, adding that he and his wife decided to “let the system handle it” at that point.
Following an investigation by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Grill was charged in December with one count of scheming to defraud in excess of $50,000, one count of grand theft over $20,000 and one count of grand theft over $10,000. The state filed none of those charges Wednesday.
The State Attorney’s Office reviewed the evidence submitted by the LCSO and determined that it “was not sufficient to legally charge a criminal theft or fraud,” officials stated. Evidence was found to file one charge of making or furnishing a false statement for a document Grill gave the Malmbergs.
“Well, with what they charged him with, at least we’re vindicated in that he has been lying to us,” Johnson said Thursday. “Otherwise, I’m not very happy with just the one charge.”
Malmberg is not surprised that only one charge has been filed.
“There could be more coming down. It takes time,” he said, adding that the investigation by the LCSO took almost a year.
“They’ve (the State Attorney’s Office) got a lot on their plate, and hopefully it’ll be enough to get a few more serious charges,” Malmberg said.
Lee Hollander, the attorney representing Grill, said he and his client do not expect any additional charges regardless of further review of the evidence by the State Attorney’s Office.
“It’s been how long now since they made the initial arrest?” he asked. “The State Attorney’s Office has had the opportunity to review the case and they found no evidence of theft, which is what the initial allegations were, and we certainly don’t expect any contrary evidence to appear at this point.”
Johnson said she does not think the state is being aggressive enough.
“He needs to be charged with the rest of the things he is accused of,” she said, adding that she does not comprehend how the state lacks the evidence to charge Grill with theft and fraud.
“What I don’t understand is the state attorney saying that they don’t have enough evidence,” she said.
“We feel there was intent from the beginning,” he said, adding that the “money was spent on personal gain.”
Johnson said the statements from his victims and the evidence all indicate a pattern of wrongdoing by Grill.
“I think ‘just case’ is enough for the pattern of what he is doing,” she said. “He is continuing to take money from people and not doing the work.”
Johnson added that another person could come forward in the next week with a complaint about Grill. She said the authorities have the information.
Samantha Syoen, spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office, explained that whether or not another possible victim has come forward, she could not comment on the matter.
“It’s an active investigation, so we couldn’t discuss anything to do with this case,” Syoen said.
Asked whether he knew of another person coming forward with a complaint against Grill, Malmberg said he had not heard anything, but added that it does not mean that it is not true.
“It’s very possible,” he said.
Johnston urges anyone who believes that they have been wronged by Grill to come forward, that other possible victims notify the authorities.
“There has to be other victims out there. It can’t be just us,” she said. “They need to come forward and help us out.”
Johnson added that Grill’s suspension is not sufficient.
“Just cause he’s off council, that is not enough,” she said. “He stole money from people and he needs to give it back.”
Despite also believing the additional theft and fraud charges are justified, Malmberg and his wife are trying to take a more positive approach.
“Hopefully, it’ll all come out in the end,” he said. “And if it doesn’t, life will go on.”
According to the State Attorney’s Office, Florida courts have found that “the law requires proof of some misrepresentation or fraud at the time the money is obtained or other evidence of an intent to steal, before a crime can be proven. Otherwise, the failure to abide by the terms of a contract is a matter for resolution by the civil courts in a lawsuit.”
Johnson has a civil lawsuit pending against Grill. She said that regardless of what the state does with the criminal charges, she plans to move forward on the lawsuit. At a recent deposition, Grill pleaded the Fifth Amendment.
Attorney James Brian Hurt of Fort Myers is representing Johnson in the civil lawsuit. He did not return telephone calls seeking comment Thursday.
Malmberg does not believe he and his wife will see the return of their money.
“I don’t see where it’s going to come from,” he said. “He seems to be in a negative in all his accounts. Unless it drops from the sky and falls upon us, I don’t see it happening.”
Grill’s arraignment is set for March 1. Hollander said a plea of not guilty has been entered. In the meantime, he and his client are awaiting paperwork from the state regarding the alleged false document Grill provided to Malmberg to see what the state is claiming as a basis for the one felony charge filed.
“I need to see what they’re claiming. We don’t believe that what they’ve found is going to support what they’re claiming, but I want to see it first,” Hollander said.
“This charge was not anything that was brought up in the original 14-page affidavit filed by the Sheriff’s Office. This is something new and outside the scope of the prior accusation,” he said.