Landowner once charged in slashing mangroves back in court seeking damages

KEY WEST, Fla. -- Nine years ago, landholder John Grunow Jr., now 62, was accused of destroying thousands of protected mangroves on state park land to create ocean views for his pricey lots.

He is finally getting his day in court -- as a victim.

Grunow is trying to convince a Circuit Court civil jury in Key West that nearby property owners Judy and Joel Harris contributed to his mangrove ''mess.'' He claims that he and his landholding company are entitled to damages of $4.4 million.

''He not only could make money, he could triple his money,'' said Miami attorney Henry E. Marinello, who had represented two landscaping companies also named as defendants.

The trial against Judy and Joel Harris is a minor piece of a massive civil case waged by Grunow and O.R. Gulf Partners Ltd., which Grunow formed in 1997 with two partners to purchase 44 lots in the exclusive Ocean Reef Club of the Upper Keys.

He and his partners already have gotten settlements totaling $9.5 million with their general contractor and their landscaping company.

The ironic court battle is a far cry from the 11 ½ years in prison Grunow faced in 2000.

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