Fire Destroys Popular Hudson Valley Restaurant, New York Owner Convicted
The owner of a popular Hudson Valley restaurant and his niece were convicted after a fire destroyed the eatery.
On Monday, Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler announced that 60-year-old, Zef Gjurashaj of Newburgh, was convicted after a jury trial in the Orange County Court of all counts considered by the jury, including arson in the first degree, conspiracy, insurance fraud, reckless endangerment and tax fraud.
Newburgh, New York Man Guilty of Burning Down Popular Orange County Restaurant
“Arson for profit is, by its nature, an incredibly challenging crime to prosecute because of the complexity of the evidence as well as because, as in this case, the perpetrator often intentionally attempts to destroy any link between themselves and the crime,” Hoovler. “This fire, which was set solely for the financial gain of the defendant, created an extremely dangerous situation for first responders who valiantly fought the fire."
It is alleged that Gjurashaj, who operated the restaurant business in the fall of 2017, knew the business was in a steep financial decline and decided to burn the business for insurance purposes.
About three weeks before the fire, Gjurashaj hired his niece, Marina Gjurashaj, to work at Andiamo’s Restaurant. The investigation into the fire revealed that on September 6, 2017, Marina Gjurashaj intentionally set fire to the building for the financial benefit of her uncle, officials say.
Yonkers, New York Woman Guilty of Burning Down Newburgh, New York Eatery
Prior to the trial, Gjurashaj’s co-defendant, Marina Gjurashaj, 38, of Yonkers, who is the wife of his nephew, plead guilty to arson and conspiracy for her role in setting the fire. As part of her plea agreement, she testified against Gjurashaj at trial.
At the trial, prosecutors argued that the defendants conspired with each other to intentionally burn down Andiamo’s Restaurant, which was located at 5025 Route 9W, in the Town of Newburgh, Orange County, New York in September of 2017.
Zef instructed Marina about how to start the fire and removed a plug from a propane line in the kitchen, which allowed for the free flow of propane into the room once the valve was turned, officials say.
The investigation into the fire also revealed that on September 6, 2017, under the direction of Zef, Marina intentionally set fire to the building by spraying an ignitable liquid on the floor of the kitchen, opening the valve to the propane line and lighting the liquid.
Newburgh, New York Restaurant Destroyed
"The subsequent fire was of such ferocity that in addition to decimating the building, it put the first responding firefighters, as well as Zef Gjurashaj’s wife, who was present at the time of the fire, at grave risk of death," the Orange County District Attorney's Office stated.
After the fire, in December 2017, Zef presented to his insurance company fraudulent proof of loss seeking payment for damage caused by the fire and submitted further fraudulent documents to the insurance company through 2018. The restaurant was later torn down due to the damage.
"The utter disregard for human life and property exhibited in this case is appalling. I thank all the myriad law enforcement agencies for their cooperation and ceaseless work on this case. Despite the defendant’s best efforts, not all the evidence of his crimes was destroyed in the restaurant he ordered burned down. A jury of his peers examined both forensic and financial evidence and returned a verdict that will hold him accountable for these heinous and dangerous acts," Hoovler said.
The investigation also revealed that Zef Gjurashaj underreported cash income from the restaurant as part of New York State tax filings, officials say.
Fire Almost Impacted Alexis Diner in Newburgh
The fire completely destroyed Andiamo's Restaurant which was located next to Alexis Diner.
"There were firetrucks all over the place. And I mean the concern was there was smoke coming into the diner. So, we tried to take care of that," Alexis Diner owner Spyros Varnavides told ABC.
Gjurashaj faces 25 years to life in state prison when he is sentenced on December 19, 2022.
“Insurance fraud involving arson not only burdens consumers with higher insurance premiums but also endangers lives,” Acting New York State Department of Financial Services Superintendent Adrienne A. Harris said. “Thanks to the excellent and diligent work by DFS investigators in coordination with fellow law enforcement partners, the perpetrators involved in this case have been apprehended.”