The owner of a popular Hudson Valley restaurant and his family member have been arrested after a fire destroyed the eatery.
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On Wednesday, Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler announced 59-year-old Zef Gjurashaj of Newburgh, and his nephew’s wife, Marina Gjurashaj, 37, of Yonkers, were indicted by the Orange County Grand Jury and charged with crimes including arson in the first degree, conspiracy, insurance fraud, tax fraud and more.
“Arson in the First Degree is one of the more rarely charged crimes in this state due to the complexity of proof and other legal issues and I highly commend all the law enforcement agencies for their tireless work on this case,” Hoovler. “The utter disregard for human life and property exhibited in this case is appalling. The defendants’ selfish actions in this case were allegedly motivated by pure greed. However, the hard work dedicated by the law enforcement professionals during the course of this investigation has brought to light the crimes these defendants hoped would disappear in the flames they set."
The indictment alleges 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.
It is alleged that Zef 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.
Approximately three weeks before the fire, Zef 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.
After the fire, in December 2017, Zef Gjurashaj allegedly 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 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.
It is alleged that on two occasions in 2018, Zef Gjurashaj testified falsely during an Examination Under Oath (EUO) conducted by the insurance company regarding observations of the scene of the fire.
“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. Both were remanded without bail to the Orange County Jail where they remain. Both face 25 years to life in prison if convicted of the top arson charge.
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