Finksburg resident Michael Griesser has a lot to be thankful for.
In seven years, he went from running a theft ring and having a full-blown heroin addiction to starting a family, landing a job selling real estate, and opening a sober home.
Griesser, formerly of New Windsor, turned up in the Carroll County Times and Baltimore Sun in March 2012 after he was arrested on charges of theft and burglary. For years, Griesser stole grounding plates and wires from cellphone towers and sold the copper to pay for his drug habit, he said.
Griesser had worked for a company that serviced cellphone towers, which made him aware of the value of copper. Employees legally took copper grounding from towers and scrapped it for the company, according to Griesser.
“So I started thinking like, why am I working five days a week for 400 bucks when I could go out one night and make a thousand bucks?” Griesser said in an interview.
Griesser, now 32 and seven years clean, recalls the powerful hold his addiction had on him.
“I was in full-blown, you know, opioid addiction. And the most important thing was how to get the most money the quickest in order to avoid being sick,” he said.
Griesser and a few other friends pilfered cellphone towers, but what led Baltimore County police to catching him for those crimes was actually the theft of lawn ornaments.
Arrest leads to sobriety
Griesser said a friend who worked for a lawn care business told him a client gave permission for them to remove lawn ornaments from her property. Thinking everything was on the up and up, Griesser drove to the house in Timonium with his friend and they began putting the ornaments and statues in the vehicle in broad daylight, he said.
“I noticed kind of quickly that a neighbor's outside watching pretty intently, like we weren't supposed to be there,” Griesser said. “The guy walks up to the car and he says, ‘Hey, what the hell are you doing? You know, this lady's like 80 years old, you're stealing from her.’”
Griesser and his companion abandoned a large statue they could not fit into the car and drove off, the Baltimore Sun reported.
The neighbor video-recorded the attempted theft and alerted police, who then had the justification to get a warrant to secretly install a GPS device under Griesser’s car, the Sun reported. Griesser said police tracked him for months before nabbing him at his work place in Owings Mills.
“They waited till I was coming out of work one night. I got in my car and several people ran up and just knocked on my windows with guns,” Griesser said.
Police suspected he’d been involved in as many as 100 other thefts, based on the number of times he pawned copper and bronze, the Sun reported. Griesser said the theft ring operated as far west at Garrett County, as far east as Ocean City, and as far north as Philadelphia.
Griesser remembers the date of his arrest well, March 10, 2012 — not because he had guns pointed at him, but because that is the day he went sober.
“It probably saved my life,” he said.
Griesser went through withdrawal in a cell, next to a stranger. He turned 25 while in jail.
“It was like the lowest point of my life, the point where I felt so sick, I was literally laying shirtless on a concrete floor in a jail next to a toilet,” Griesser said.
“So at some point, I just said to myself, or to God, I guess, ‘OK, if you stop this, if you get me out of this, if I can escape this feeling, I will not do any drug.’”
Griesser said he took the advice of his attorney and did not post bail before his court date. He stayed in the Baltimore County Detention Center and detoxed.
He pleaded guilty to the cell phone tower thefts and was sentenced to 10 years with all but one year suspended for theft, and three years with all but one year suspended for two counts of fourth-degree burglary, according to online court documents. Griesser served the sentences concurrently, online court documents show.
A second chance
Griesser spent four months at Gaudenzia treatment center in Owings Mills, and after 35 days, his friend got him a job as an electrician, he said.
With the drugs out of his system, Griesser was motivated to start fresh.
“I had this new energy. I feel great. I know I can do something big if I just stay clean,” Griesser recalled thinking.
He was surrounded by friends and family who were also in recovery, which he said helped him stay focused. His girlfriend, Ashley, stuck with him and the two married in 2014, he said.
Griesser was an electrician for two years, then a mutual friend gave him a shot as a sales representative in 2015, according to Griesser.
Bill Valway is CEO of AP Corp, a nationwide window filming and graphics provider, based in Sykesville. When Griesser worked there, it was called Absolute Perfection.
Valway said in an interview he knew of Griesser’s past, but he offered him a job anyway.
“I’m an alcoholic, I’m in AA [alcoholics anonymous],” Valway said. “His story resonated with me, so I knew that if he was willing to do the work on himself he would be able to really accomplish some great things in his life.”
Even with no sales experience, Griesser took to the opportunity. His job was to meet with customers, which sometimes required him to drive hundreds of miles a week throughout Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., according to Valway.
“He performed very well,” Valway said. “He was one of those guys I knew would put in the extra time, whatever it took.”
As Griesser remembers it, he broke every record the company had in his sales division. He left after about 18 months and sought his real estate license.
“I’m really happy for him,” Valway said.
Encouraged by a cousin, Griesser got a job with ExecuHome Realty. His criminal history made it more difficult to get his real estate license, but Griesser succeeded after a months-long process, he said. Griesser’s real estate career began as a team member of ExecuHome in November of 2016, and now he’s a team leader, working more independently, he said.
The Michael Griesser Group is on track to close approximately 85 real estate deals this year, about 60% of which are in Carroll County, he said, noting, “We would like to solidify our growth in Carroll County to ensure we can continue to make a difference in the community.”
With business booming, Griesser has given back to those battling addiction.
Griesser bought a rancher in Westminster, invested about $40,000, and helped turn it into a men’s halfway house.
Brian McCall, known in the recovery community as the rapper B-RAiN, helps manage the Mulligan Sober Homes house. McCall met Griesser through Rising Above Addiction, a Carroll County nonprofit that helps people out of addiction.
“It’s been a dream of mine to open a recovery house,” McCall said in an interview. “I didn’t have the means to do that.”
But Griesser did.
The two clicked, McCall said, over their recovery journeys and desire to build a sober house.
The Mulligan house opened Nov. 1 and has 10 beds for men who are clean and trying to remain sober, according to McCall.
“We kind of make it like a therapeutic community where the guys hold each other accountable and lift each other up,” McCall said.
When Griesser comes to the house in his clean-cut real estate agent clothes, he doesn’t fit the mold of what people expect, McCall noted. But when he shares his story of addiction, it seems to give the other men hope, McCall said.
Tammy Lofink, co-founder of Rising Above Addiction, said Griesser has been a huge help to the nonprofit.
“Part of his recovery is helping to give back,” she said.
Carroll County Breaking News
Griesser has sponsored fundraising events such as a golf tournament and runs for recovery, Lofink said, adding that she and Griesser have become close friends.
On Tuesday, Rising Above Addiction settled on a Westminster property Griesser found for them, which will be a new sober home for women. It will be called Keeping my Serenity, she said.
Lofink also praised Griesser’s wife Ashley and mother Lisa Rippeon for giving back. Ashley is a dental hygienist who has provided dental services to the women in Rising Above Addiction’s other sober home, according to Lofink. Rippeon works in a hair salon and has given haircuts to the women, Lofink said.
Mike Griesser plans to continue giving back.
“I feel like the reason things continue to get better is because I continue to do good. So the better I do, the more good I feel like I should do,” Griesser said. “I guess more than that even, I'm just super grateful that I even made it out of the situation that I was in.”
Griesser believes letting others know about the way he turned his life around can help and he doesn’t plan to keep it from anyone, including his 4-year-old daughter Parker.
“I think that my gift at this point in my life," he said, "is to tell my story.”