Grell faces theft charge over landfill

Former Webster County landfill Director Mike Grell was arrested Tuesday and charged with theft by misappropriation of landfill resources.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation alleges that Grell used landfill equipment, personnel and other resources to remove topsoil from his private property from early spring 2012 through the winter of 2012, when he was a co-director of the North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Agency.

The allegedly misused resources had a value of more than $10,000, according to the criminal complaint.

DCI Special Agent Ray Fiedler said Grell would face a minimum fine of $1,000 up to a maximum of $10,000, and up to 10 years in prison, if convicted.

He is charged with first-degree theft, a class C felony.

Grell appeared in Webster County Magistrate Court Wednesday morning in Fort Dodge. He was released from jail on a $10,000 bond. His preliminary hearing was set for Aug. 1.

Fiedler said his office has been involved in the case since November 2013.

An audit of the waste agency released on December 2013 uncovered questionable practices at the landfill, but made no mention of this particular issue. Those practices are not addressed by the criminal complaint.

The DCI and the Webster County sheriff’s office are still investigating issues related to the landfill, said Assistant County Attorney Ryan Baldridge.

“There continues to be an ongoing investigation,” Baldridge said. “There are other things that are being looked into. Right now, this is the most solid case that we have.”

Grell became landfill director in 2011, and Deb Watson Lentsch became the waste agency’s director of recycling and administration/finance.

Grell resigned as landfill director in April 2013, and Watson Lentsch was terminated September 2013. Attempts to reach Grell’s lawyer, Ernest Kersten, were unsuccessful Wednesday.

The audit, released by Iowa Auditor of State Mary Mosiman, highlighted irregularities in a sale of landfill land in May 2012 and payments for gravel hauling from September 2012 to February 2013.

The report said the agency hired a company owned by Grell’s son, Gypsum Hollow Industries, to haul gravel without doing the proper bidding process.

GHI hauled about 65,000 tons for $995,694.

The solid waste agency sold 27.2 acres of land to an adjacent property owner for $5,695, or $209 per acre, land that was later assessed at a value of $10,810 by the Webster County assessor, according to the audit.

The agency did not have an appraisal done prior to selling the land, nor did it seek to identify any other interested parties to bid on the land. The agency’s executive board had approved a sale at $250 per acre, but the full board never held a vote on it, according to the audit.

The audit recommended the agency consult with legal counsel to determine what legal recourse was available regarding the two issues.

The agency’s attorney, Steve Kersten, said at that time that all remedies were being explored.

Baldridge said the concerns are part of the ongoing investigation.

Grell has been affiliated with the landfill in some capacity for about 37 years, according to The Messenger’s archives. His company worked for the landfill for several years; he was part of the landfill staff for about seven years before being promoted to director. His father, Pat Grell, managed the facility back when it was the Fort Dodge city dump.