Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Troy man accused of turning to old tricks

Editor | January 14, 2022 7:00 AM

Authorities say a Troy man has fleeced customers across the country out of thousands of dollars — and not for the first time.

Steven Edward Grable, 55, faces a single felony theft charge in Lincoln County District Court after authorities launched an investigation last summer. According to court documents, Detective David Hall began looking into Grable after receiving a complaint from an Enfield, Conn., woman on July 7 who ordered a handmade crib from his Troy-based company.

In an affidavit, Hall wrote that the complaint against Grable was a familiar one. He had investigated Grable in 2013 following reports of “deception and deceptive practices.” In that case, Grable allegedly scammed 25 victims, but reached a pretrial diversion agreement that saw him repay his customers in exchange for authorities dropping the charges.

After speaking with the Connecticut woman and a bit of investigative work, Hall determined that Grable allegedly had returned to his old con. In the 2013 scheme, customers logged onto Grable’s website, which stated he accepted credit cards. Upon checkout, the customer was asked to put down a 45 percent “good faith” deposit via an electronic funds transfer program, Hall recalled.

When an order was logged, Grable allegedly reached out to the customer through email asking them to send a check instead. He typically told clients that this was because he was switching or dropping payment processing vendors, court documents said. He cut communication once the money landed in his bank account, Hall wrote.

Grable has since dropped the electronic funds transfer program aspect, telling prospective customers on his website that payment must be made via cash, check or money order, court documents said. But customers that go through the checkout process are asked to fill out a credit card authorization form and fax it to his shop.

This led the Connecticut woman to think she could still pay by credit card, Hall wrote. Reviewing the email correspondence between the two, Hall saw that Grable allegedly told the woman that he needed a money order or check as he was switching credit card processors. She ended up sending him $810 in March, according to court documents.

Then Grable allegedly dropped off the face of the earth, she told Hall. When she tried calling the phone number listed on his website, she reached a medical company. Hall confirmed the number went to a different business.

After checking around, Hall realized that other deputies had filed similar complaints regarding Grable’s business in 2018, 2019 and 2020. A review of the Better Business Bureau revealed that Grable’s business had received an “F” rating as well as nine complaints between 2018 and 2020.

Hall also contacted the Montana Office of Consumer Protection. They told him the office had received a complaint about Grable in January 2019, court documents said.

The detective emailed Grable on July 22, outlining the Connecticut woman’s complaint and asking him to fix the situation.

“Let me know what’s going on, I would appreciate it as I get the phone calls on these,” Hall recalled writing.

When Grable got in touch, he allegedly told the detective that his father recently died. He also cited a lack of employees and told Hall that he could no longer perform the work himself, court documents said. Once he made a few hires, “our whole situation will turn around,” Grable wrote back.

Hall drew other conclusions, according to the affidavit.

“This [led] me to believe that Grable already spent [the victim’s] money and cannot return it and he is not simply building anything at this time,” Hall wrote.

Hall received a subpoena for Grable’s bank records. He found multiple checks deposited into Grable’s company account, dating back to 2019. The money, Hall wrote, came from customers across the country.

A Texas man who sent Grable $2,360 told Hall he never received any furniture. A Louisiana woman who spoke with Hall recalled paying $1,835 by check for furniture that never arrived. According to the affidavit, a Missouri customer sent a check for $940 while a Minnesota woman paid $495. Neither received their orders, Hall wrote.

One customer, a medical firm in Bozeman, got a refund, but only after filing multiple complaints with the state, Hall wrote. Two other Montana customers, one from Great Falls, the other from Conrad, were less lucky with their respective $520 and $895 payments, court documents said.

The jilted customers Hall spoke with passed along their receipts from Grable’s company, court documents said.

In the 2013 case, Hall wrote, Grable repaid $17,729 to his victims.

Felony theft carries a maximum punishment of 10 years with the Montana State Prison and a $10,000 fine.