Log furniture maker Troy will face a new lawsuit

A Trojan man accused of defrauding several people after allegedly failing to build log furniture after taking their orders or failing to refund their money will face another trial.

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

At a June 27 hearing, Cuffe scheduled the trial for October 18.

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

At the June 27 hearing, Keenan Gallagher said the state’s public defender’s office is evaluating whether he and Liam Gallagher will remain as Grable’s attorneys.

According to court documents filed June 21, Boris filed a motion for penalties and payment of 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 his motion, argued that the conduct of Grable’s lawyers forced the mistrial.

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

According to Cuffe’s mistrial order, Boris argued that the records had not been disclosed. Boris asked Cuffe to strike Grable’s testimony that he had commercial documents confirming his testimony about the previously undisclosed 17 people and that he had provided these documents to his lawyer. Boris also asked Cuffe to tell the jury that the testimony was quashed due to failure to disclose required information.

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

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

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

Judge also wrote, “I think we just wasted the time of a whole bunch of people who signed on to do this because we were more interested in playing games than taking care of business.”

During the first two days of the case, June 13 and 14, the prosecution team argued that Grable was a man who repeatedly took money from people promising to make furniture handmade logs, including cradles, but that he rarely delivered the goods.

Detective Dave Hall of the Boris and Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office said Grable’s pattern has changed little over the years. They said he would be taking online orders for Montana Custom Log Furniture. They said he was very responsive with potential customers, exchanging emails discussing order specifications, pricing and delivery options. They said that on several occasions after receiving a 50% down payment, Grable stopped communicating with some of its customers or failed to deliver a finished product.

Hall investigated Grable in a 2013 case where the defendant was charged with deceptive practices and theft by deception, two crimes. The incidents allegedly took place between September 2008 and September 2013.

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

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

Part of the deal was that if Grable returned the money to the customers within two years, the case would be thrown out. On July 12, 2016, the county attorney’s office filed a motion to dismiss it because it alleged that Grable failed to pay restitution to two people in the amount of $2,605. But later, according to court records, Grable refunded a total of $17,729 to 25 people while three customers received the furniture they ordered.

On September 19, 2016, the case was dismissed by the court. Grable pleaded guilty to no charges and did not have to admit any allegations.

In the current case, Keenan Gallagher and Liam Gallagher said their client was a man who suffered from heart disease as well as the deaths of his father in 2019 and his daughter in 2021, and a pandemic which caused him prevented from hiring workers to complete the contract work.

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

Virginia C. Taylor