Friday, December 08, 2023

Troy log furniture maker will face retrial

The Western News | July 8, 2022 7:00 AM

A Troy man accused of defrauding several people after allegedly failing to build log furniture after taking their orders or not refunding their money will face another trial.

Steven Edward Grable, 56, the owner of Montana Custom Log Furniture, was on trial for one felony count of theft on June 15 in the Lincoln County District Court when Judge Matt Cuffe declared a mistrial.

During a hearing on June 27, Cuffe set the trial for Oct. 18.

What is still unknown is who will represent Grable. Lincoln County Attorney Marcia Boris is seeking sanctions against the Montana Office of the Public Defender and the attorneys, Liam Gallagher and Keenan Gallagher, who defended Grable in the first trial.

During the June 27 hearing, Keenan Gallagher said the state Public Defender’s Office was weighing whether he and Liam Gallagher would remain Grable's attorneys.

According to court documents filed June 21, Boris filed a motion for sanctions and payment for nearly $10,000 that it cost the county to hold the trial. Part of the costs included nearly $4,000 to bring in witnesses from Great Falls and Marion as well as Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Reno, Nevada.

Boris, in her motion, argued that the conduct of Grable’s attorneys forced a mistrial.

On the third day of the trial, while Grable was being questioned by Liam Gallagher, Boris objected to the mention of business records of about 17 people, not previously disclosed, the defendant had either completed projects for or for whom he provided a refund because the information had not been disclosed before the trial, according to a mistrial order filed by Judge Matt Cuffe on June 16.

According to Cuffe’s mistrial order, Boris argued the records hadn’t been disclosed. Boris asked Cuffe to strike Grable’s testimony that he possessed business records confirming his testimony about the previously undisclosed 17 people and that he provided those records to his attorney. Boris also asked Cuffe to tell the jury the testimony was being stricken because of the failure to disclose the required information.

Liam Gallagher argued that because the documents were not offered as exhibits, they were not being used, and were not required to be disclosed. But Cuffe disagreed and believes the business records should have been shared with the county attorney.

In his mistrial order, Cuffe wrote that he considered Boris’ request to strike Grable’s testimony and advise the jury of his failure to share the records before determining there was no way to ask the jury to disregard the testimony, that if true, would severely undermine the state’s case, and if false, would severely undermine Grable’s credibility.

In court documents filed in Boris’ motion for sanctions, Cuffe wrote that “this is beyond anything that I have ever seen or dealt with in 5 1/2 years and all the trials.”

The judge also wrote “I think we just wasted a whole bunch of people’s time who committed to do this because we got more interested in playing games than taking care of business.”

In the first two days of the case on June 13-14, the prosecution team argued that Grable was a man who repeatedly took money from people with the promise he would make custom handmade log furniture, including baby cribs, but rarely delivered the goods.

Boris and Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Detective Dave Hall said Grable’s pattern changed little over the years. They said he would take online orders for Montana Custom Log Furniture. They said he was very responsive with prospective customers, exchanging emails that dealt with order specifications, price and delivery options. They said in several instances after he received a 50% deposit, Grable stopped communicating with some of his customers or failed to deliver a finished product.

Hall investigated Grable in a 2013 case where the defendant was accused of deceptive practices and theft by deception, both felonies. The incidents were alleged to have occurred between Sept. 2008 and Sept. 2013.

Court records indicate most of the alleged victims were from out of state, but also in Northwest Montana locations, including Libby and Lakeside. The Better Business Bureau in Spokane, Washington, told Det. Hall it had 18 complaints filed on its website against Montana Custom Log Furniture.

According to court documents, on July 18, 2014, Lincoln County Chief Deputy Attorney Joseph Cik and Grable’s attorney, Courtney Nolan, agreed to a pretrial diversion agreement that left the case suspended.

Part of the agreement was that if Grable refunded money to the customers within a two-year period, the case would be dismissed. On July 12, 2016, the county attorney’s office filed a petition to revoke because it alleged Grable hadn’t paid restitution to two people in the amount of $2,605. But later, according to court records, Grable did refund a total of $17,729 to 25 people while three customers did receive the furniture they ordered.

On Sept. 19, 2016, the case was dismissed in court. Grable didn’t plead guilty to any charges and did not have to admit to any allegations.

In the current case, Keenan Gallagher and Liam Gallagher said their client was a man who was suffering from a heart condition as well as the death of his father in 2019 and his daughter in 2021, and a pandemic that left him unable to hire workers to complete the contracted work.

“My client, Steve Grable, may not be a perfect businessman and he should have let the log business die awhile ago,” Keenan Gallagher said. “Despite his health, he felt he could do the work, and Steve’s intent was not to steal money from these people.”