Mother accused of dining & dashing, falsely reporting daughter left behind was kidnapped

Melissa Ashley Graham of Bonita Springs

Lee County Sheriff's Office

Melissa Ashley Graham of Bonita Springs

A Bonita Springs woman is accused of skipping out on a restaurant bill, leaving her 12-year-old daughter behind and then calling the Sheriff’s Office to say her daughter was kidnapped.

Melissa Ashley Graham, 38, of the 28000 block of Vermillion Lane, was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor/causing a minor to become needy and with obstruction of a criminal investigation/filing a false report about a missing person.

According to Lee County Sheriff’s Office reports:

Deputies were called to Bonefish Grill, 26381 U.S. 41 South in Bonita Springs, about a woman who didn’t pay her bill and left her daughter behind.

Matthew McNeff, the restaurant manager, told deputies the girl told him her mother was outside.

They walked outside and found Graham in her car. Graham said she left a credit card on the table to pay the bill. He told Graham the card wasn’t on the table and he needed another form of payment.

The mother said she was with someone named Pagellis and that person would get the money. The girl said they were not with a person named Pagellis, which is the name of a restaurant. The mother then left the parking lot.

Deputies spoke with the girl, who said Graham had ordered dinner and a bottle of wine and drank two or three glasses. Her mother then “began to act weird, spit out her bread on the table and shoved her food across the table” and told the girl to “get a box.” The mother left and the girl waited for her return.

Graham called her daughter on a cellular telephone, asked where she was and then disconnected the call. Deputies attempted to call Graham back, but she did not answer.

About an hour later, Graham called 911 and said her daughter was abducted from the restaurant by two Hispanic or dark-colored men, about 20 to 30 years old, driving a light colored or cream sedan.

At first Graham declined to speak with detectives, but changed her mind and gave a statement.

The Florida Department of Children and Family Services took custody of the girl.

Graham claims she is an attorney, but a search of the Florida Bar Association website did not find a person by that name.

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