Orange County News
For Immediate Release Contact: Christopher Borek
September 26, 2022 845.291.3276, 845.238.4245c
District Attorney Hoovler Announces Guilty Verdict
in 2017 Arson of Failing Town of Newburgh Restaurant
Restaurant Owner Convicted of Arson in the First Degree
Defendant Faces up to 25 Years to Life in Prison
Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler announced that on Monday, September 26, 2022, Zef Gjurashaj, 60, of Newburgh, was convicted after jury trial in the Orange County Court of all counts considered by the jury, including Arson in the First Degree, Conspiracy in the Second Degree, two counts of Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree, Insurance Fraud in the Second Degree, and Tax Fraud in the Fifth Degree. Gjurashaj faces a sentence of twenty-five (25) years to life in state prison on the Arson conviction when he is sentenced on December 19, 2022.
Prior to the trial, Gjurashaj’s co-defendant, Marina Gjurashaj, 38, of Yonkers, who is the wife of his nephew, pled guilty to Arson in the Third Degree and Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree for her role in setting the fire. As part of her plea agreement, Marina Gjurashaj testified against Zef 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 Gjurashaj, who operated the restaurant business in the fall of 2017, knew that the business was in a steep financial decline and decided to burn the business for insurance purposes. He instructed Marina Gjurashaj 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. The investigation into the fire revealed that on September 6, 2017, at the direction of Zef, Marina Gjurashaj intentionally set fire to the building for the financial benefit of her “uncle” by spraying an ignitable liquid on the floor of the kitchen, opening the valve to the propane line and lighting the liquid. 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. Thereafter, and in furtherance of the conspiracy, beginning in December, 2017, Zef Gjurashaj, presented to his insurance company a fraudulent Proof of Loss seeking payment for damage caused by the fire. In support of the fraudulent Proof of Loss, Zef Gjurashaj submitted further fraudulent documents to the insurance company through 2018. 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. The investigation also revealed that Zef Gjurashaj under reported cash income from the restaurant as part of New York State tax filings.
District Attorney Hoovler thanked all the state, local and federal law enforcement officials who aided in the investigation and eventual apprehension of the defendants including the Town of Newburgh Police, who were assisted in the investigation of the fire by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, New York State Department of Financial Services, New York State Department of Taxation and Finance and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
District Attorney Hoovler further acknowledges the efforts of the Cronomer Valley Fire Department, the Westchester County Police Department and Sterling Insurance Company throughout the course of the investigation.
“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,” said District Attorney David. M. 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. 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.”
“Insurance fraud involving arson not only burdens consumers with higher insurance premiums but also endangers lives,” said New York State Department of Financial Services Superintendent Adrienne A. Harris. “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.”
District Attorney Hoovler highly commended Counsel to the District Attorney Stewart Rosenwasser for his prosecution of the case, as well as Senior Assistant District Attorney Ryan Greenbaum, who assisted at trial.
This criminal charge is merely an allegation that a defendant has committed a violation of the criminal law, and it is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the State of New York’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.