Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Mistrial declared in case of Troy log furniture maker

The Western News | June 17, 2022 7:00 AM

A mistrial was declared in the matter of a Troy man accused of stealing thousands of dollars from people all over the country after taking orders from them for custom log furniture and then not producing the items.

Steven Edward Grable, 55, was on trial for one felony count of theft Wednesday afternoon in the 19th District Judicial Court when Judge Matt Cuffe made the ruling.

Cuffe told the jury of 14 Lincoln County residents, which included two alternates, that they wouldn’t be going forward with the case. Cuffe apologized to the jurors that they wouldn’t be able to see the case through to the end.

“The court can not comment on any ongoing litigation,” Judge Cuffe said.

Cuffe will continue to oversee any further proceedings. A status hearing will be held at 1:30 p.m. Monday, June 27, to determine the future of the case.

The stunning ending was frustrating to many, including Lincoln County Attorney Marcia Boris.

“It’s really frustrating to have happened,” Boris said. “I’m very, very upset we have a mistrial.”

The mistrial arose out of matters of discovery. According to Montana Code Annotated 2021, the prosecution and defense attorneys are required by law to provide evidence to the opposition prior to trial so it can be examined.

According to the American Bar Association, discovery enables the parties to know before the trial begins what evidence may be presented. It’s designed to prevent "trial by ambush," where one side doesn’t learn of the other side’s evidence or witnesses until the trial, when there’s no time to obtain answering evidence.

Boris had objected to instances of Grable’s attorneys, Keenan Gallagher and Liam Gallagher, introducing copies of checks that were intended to show Grable had refunded money to his customers.

“On Tuesday, Mr. Gallagher (Liam) tried to introduce two checks that I hadn’t seen and then today, he began asking about records of completed orders that had not been produced to the state and that’s what I objected to,” Boris said. “We are entitled to discovery.”

Attempts to reach both attorneys were unsuccessful at press time.

In the first two days of the case, 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 his business, 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.”

While many alleged victims were from other states, some were from Montana, including one man from Flathead County.

Paul Kinder, of Marion, testified that he and his wife were looking for a new bedroom suite and they found Grable’s business while doing a Google search.

“I emailed him on June 24, 2021, and he encouraged me to order quickly because of his schedule,” Kinder said. “He (Grable) said when he got the check, he’d schedule the work.”

Kinder said he placed the order on June 30 and his wife wrote and mailed a deposit check on July 6 for $1,290. Kinder said once the check was cashed on July 12, they didn’t hear from Grable.

Keenan Gallagher had Kinder read an email from Grable that indicated they did speak about Grable falling behind in his work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kinder said Grable told him many potential employees weren’t working because they were receiving generous unemployment checks each month.