A new trial date has been set for the alleged illegal dredging case of Thomas Grady, a prominent attorney in South Florida who is the current chair of the state Board of Education.
Grady is charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with a single federal misdemeanor account of obstructing navigable waterways, carrying a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment. Court files indicate the trial date has been set for Dec. 13 at the federal courthouse located at 400 N. Miami Ave. in Miami.
The charge was filed against Grady on Sept. 30, alleging that he conducted dredging on an oceanfront property he owned on the Old Highway in Islamorada in 2017, a property which he sold the following year. It is not clear why there was a four-year delay in filing the charges. Such waterways are managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, thus the charges are filed in federal court as opposed to state.
In order to legally conduct heavy construction on an environmentally sensitive property, Grady would have had to obtain the proper permits from the village of Islamorada, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Army Corps of Engineers.
Records from the village show that Grady started performing heavy construction on the property and was issued two code violations by the village in January 2017. Grady then asserted that he had obtained the right permits in 2015 and insisted that the code violations were issued erroneously. Village staff concluded that pursuing the matter further to set an example was not worth the trouble. Records show that Grady did obtain some permits for work on the property, but the timeline of when they were issued is unclear as is the scope of the work that was allowed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-Fitzgerald has declined to comment on the case.
Grady has retained the services of the law firm Markus/Moss for his defense. David Oscar Markus initially told the Florida Keys Free Press that Grady had all the proper permits to dredge the site. Prosecutors later submitted files that said they had evidence that Grady corresponded with the Army Corps of Engineers “seeking to alter the prior permit without disclosing the work had already been completed, later discussed the lack of a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, and also discussed whether an after the fact permit was an option.”
Markus then said the “government has turned a simple dispute about the scope of a permit into a federal case. A complete waste of resources, especially where there is no dispute that State of Florida and local officials approved this exact work.”
In the most recent discovery response filed in the case, on Nov. 10, Watts-Fitzgerald said the prosecution plans to seek testimony from Philip A. Frank that the property “prior to approximately February 18, 2016, was not connected to open water by a previously dredged channel, but was fronted by shallow, natural, undisturbed hard-bottom with significant environmental value.”
Frank works for Terramar Environmental Services of Summerland Key and is on the village of Islamorada’s list of biologists qualified to conduct benthic surveys.
Frank’s testimony will include that he was retained by Grady to conduct a survey of the oceanside area adjacent to the property in support of a permit application. Files show that Frank will testify that he “determined a historic channel existed there, which would be amenable to maintenance dredging under existing rules and procedures, subject to the acquisition of requisite permits from local, state and federal authorities.” He is expected to further testify that a moratorium on new dredging has been in place in Monroe County since the 1980s.