Cape business woman angry at state’s charge decision in Grill case
The state’s decision to not file more charges against a suspended Cape Coral council member has one of the clients he was accused of defrauding angry as she moves forward with a civil lawsuit.
The State Attorney’s Office announced at a hearing Wednesday that it will not file charges against Eric Grill for scheming to defraud and grand theft of $20,000 to $100,000. Samantha Syoen, the SAO spokeswoman, said there was “legally insufficient evidence to prosecute.”
“We did not drop charges, we just didn’t file on those two counts,” she said.
Grill was accused of taking more than $50,000 from Lisa Johnson, owner of Tropical Twisters Gymnastics, for construction work that his company never completed. Grill allegedly did the same to David and Shirley Malmberg, owners of Affordable Towing and Storage, bilking the couple out of about $15,000.
On Feb. 24, the State Attorney’s Office filed one charge against Grill for making or furnishing a false statement for a document he provided to the Malmbergs. According to officials, evidence was found to support filing the
one charge, but not to “legally charge” Grill with criminal theft or fraud.
Originally, following an investigation by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Grill was charged with one count each of scheming to defraud in excess of $50,000, grand theft over $20,000 and grand theft over $10,000. The State Attorney’s decision means he will not be prosecuted on these charges.
According to officials, courts in Florida 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.”
On Thursday, Johnson expressed her frustration with the SAO’s decision.
“I really think the State Attorney did an injustice,” she said, adding that she supplied paperwork to support the reports against Grill. “He’s a criminal that got away with it and I’m pissed.”
Grill’s attorney, Lee Hollander, had an opposite reaction to the news.
“Everyone is acting like this is something new. They didn’t file those charges months ago,” he said. “I didn’t think they had enough evidence back when they filed the original charges. The state was cleaning up a loose
Johnson said she is pursuing a civil lawsuit in an attempt to get her money back from Grill. She is being represented by attorneys Brian Hurt and Curt Truitt, of Fort Myers. They will file motions to compel next week, she said.
“We’re going to move forward with the civil suit and see what a judge says,” Johnson said, adding that Grill has so far been uncooperative. “He refused to come in for a deposition. He has refused to turn over any affidavits that we have requested, and he hasn’t shown up before a judge.”
Grill, who has entered a not guilty plea, has taken the Fifth Amendment.
“We may not be able to anything criminally, but we’re going to work on getting my money back,” she said.
According to Hollander, he is currently digging through more than 1,000 pages of discovery connected to the case to review the state’s evidence.
Asked about whether a plea deal is possible, Hollander did not dismiss it.
“There’s always that possibility,” he said. “Both sides always talk. Until somebody says “No, that’s it,’ everybody’s talking. That’s just the nature of any case.”
Johnson said she is just trying to keep what happened to her from happening to someone else.
“The main reason I’m doing it is because I don’t want this happening to anyone else,” she said. “He has done a crime and he needs to pay for it.”
The Malmbergs were unavailable for comment Thursday.
Grill’s next court date is a pretrial conference at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 24. The charge against him has a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison unpon conviction.
Grill was suspended from the Cape Coral City Council by Gov. Charlie Crist.
According to Hollander, Grill is working out of state in the construction field.