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Grill pleads guilty, sentenced top 5 years probation

By Staff | Aug 24, 2010

A former Cape Coral City Council member was sentenced to five years probation Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to one charge filed against him.
Eric Grill, 45, entered a plea of guilty to one count of making or furnishing a false statement before Circuit Judge Margaret O. Steinbeck. He received five years state probation and was ordered to pay $9,900 in restitution to David and Shirley Malmberg at a rate of at least $300 per month, plus court costs.
Grill must also submit a letter of resignation from his council seat to the city within a week.
“He must formally resign from the city council within seven days,” Samantha Syoen, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office, said.
After 12 months, Grill can ask that his probation is terminated if the restitution has been paid in full and he is in good standing with the court.
Attorney Lee Hollander, who represented Grill, said Steinbeck withheld adjudication on the third-degree felony so “he was not legally convicted.”
“It means he is not a convicted felon,” Hollander said.
Assistant State Attorney Dean R. Plattner prosecuted the case.
“We think it was a fair and appropriate resolution to the case considering the nature of the case,” Plattner said of the sentence handed down Tuesday.
Plattner pointed out that Grill had no prior criminal record.
“It’s consistent with how a case of this type would be handled,” he said.
Grill was initially arrested on charges of grand theft and fraud in connection to complaints filed with the state. The Malmbergs, the owners of Affordable Towing, and Lisa Johnson, the owner of Tropical Twisters Gymnastics, alleged that Grill bilked them out of thousands of dollars worth of construction work.
They each claimed that Grill took money for a project but never finished it.
The State Attorney’s Office later stated that there was “legally insufficient evidence to prosecute” Grill for the original charges, but prosecutors did file the one charge against him for making or furnishing a false statement for a document Grill gave the Malmbergs regarding payment and subcontractors.
David Malmberg was present in the courtroom for Tuesday’s sentencing.
“He got a little slap on the wrist,” he said.
Johnson agreed.
“I’m glad that he at least got a sentence of something,” she said.
“I don’t think the reprimand was hard enough,” Johnson added.
Malmberg explained that he and his wife tried to make a deal with Grill in the beginning to settle out of court, but Grill continued to maintain his innocence.
“He could’ve avoided all this,” he said. “We would have settled this without any type of publicity or criminal act or whatever being done.”
The Malmbergs did not plan on getting any of their money back, so now they are going to see if Grill follows through with the judge’s order and repays the restitution. Malmberg added that they have never been through this before.
“It’s unfortunate, but I’m glad it’s come to a rest,” he said. “I’m glad to put a close on it.”
According to Hollander, Grill shares the Malmbergs’ sentiment.
“I think he’s glad this is over, at least this portion of it,” he said.
Hollander said Grill has been living out of state, possible Alabama, and doing some type of maintenance or construction work. He added that Grill can now pay off the restitution and move on with his life.
“He’s just a nice guy who made a mistake and he’s going on from here,” Hollander said.
Grill is scheduled to return to Lee County in September to testify for the state in an alleged murder-for-hire plot. Dustin Russell Lofty, 24, of North Fort Myers, is accused of conspiring to commit murder by offering to “get rid of” witnesses — the Malmbergs and Johnson — in cases against Grill.
Lofty reportedly contacted Grill by e-mail and advised Grill that “he could help him with his problems.” His proposition included at least “four zeroes” and $500 up front to acquire the “tools of the trade,” including addresses and pictures of the “subject to get rid of,” according to authorities.
During an investigation, Grill helped investigators by meeting with Lofty in person several times to discuss the terms of the proposal. They were under surveillance by law enforcement at least once, officials reported. At the last meeting, Grill gave Lofty an envelope with $500, supplied by investigators.
Lofty accepted the money, then was taken into custody by deputies.
Lofty is facing two counts of criminal attempt to solicit conspire in capital felony. His trial is set for Sept. 20, and he faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison for each count, according to officials.
Johnson has filed a civil lawsuit against Grill in the hopes of recovering some of the money that Grill reportedly took from her. She recently filed a motion to compel because Grill has refused to hand over requested affidavits and refused to come in for depositions, according to Johnson.
She said Tuesday that she is waiting to hear from the judge on the motion.