DA Hoovler Announces 22 Year to Life State Prison Sentence in 2017 Arson of Failing Town of Newburgh Restaurant
Restaurant Owner sentenced to a total of 22 1/3 Years to Life in Prison
Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler announced that on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, former Town of Newburgh restauranter Zef Gjurashaj, 60, of Newburgh, was sentenced to a total of twenty-two and one-third years to life (22 1/3 -Life) in prison for having burned down his restaurant for profit in 2017. On September 26, 2022, the defendant was convicted after a jury trial of all counts considered by the jury. Gjurashi was convicted of crimes including Arson in the First Degree, Conspiracy in the Second Degree, Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree (2 Counts), Insurance Fraud in the Second Degree, and Tax Fraud in the Fifth Degree.
Prior to the trial, Gjurashaj’s co-defendant and the wife of his nephew, Marina Gjurashaj, 38, of Yonkers, 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. During the sentencing proceedings Executive Assistant District Attorney Stewart Rosenwasser, who had prosecuted the case, argued that the defendant had exploited Marina’s immigration status and history as a domestic violence victim, to induce her to aid him in the arson.
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 declineand 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’s wife, who was present at the time of the fire, at grave risk of death.
During the sentencing proceedings, Executive Assistant District Attorney Stewart Rosenwasser, read the transcript of a telephone call that occurred between Zef Gjurishai and his wife. Prior to the sentence proceedings commencing the defendant’s lawyer objected to the reading of the letter complaining that it was being used by prosecutors to show an “almost murderous intent on the part of my client.” The Judge allowed the prosecutor to read the transcript which prosecutors argued showed that ZefGjurashai had purposely arraigned for his unsuspecting wife to be present when a propane line was opened, and the fire was started. Zef Gjurashaj was sentenced to twenty years to life (20 – Life) in prison for the crime of Arson in the First Degree.
Gjurashai was also sentenced to concurrent terms in prison on the following charges: Conspiracy in the Second Degree, eight and one-third to twenty-five (8 1/3- 25) years in prison; Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree, for endangering his wife, two and one-third to seven (2 1/3 – 7) in prison; Insurance Fraud in the Second Degree, five to fifteen (5-15) years in prison; Criminal Tax Fraud in the Fifth Degree, one (1) year in jail. Judge Craig Stephen Brown noted the extreme danger that the defendant had placed firefighters, police officers and other first responders in, and sentenced Gjurashai to a consecutive term of two and one-third to seven (2 1/3-7) years in prison on the charge of Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree pertaining to them.
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, the New York State Department of Financial Services, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
District Attorney Hoovler further acknowledged the efforts of the Cronomer Valley Fire Department, the Winona Lake Fire Department, the Westchester County Police Department, the New York State Forensic Investigation Center, and Sterling Insurance Company, throughout the course of the investigation.
“This fire, which was set solely for the selfish financial gain of the defendant, created an extremely dangerous situation for first responders who valiantly fought the fire as well as to the defendant’s wife.” said District Attorney David. M. Hoovler.”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.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. I particularly commend Investigator Vincent Spampinato of the New York State Department of Financial Services, who worked on the case both at that agency, and when he was a detective with the Town of Newburgh Police Department. The tenacity of these investigators from multiple agencies resulted in the just result obtained in this case.”
“Insurance fraud involving arson not only burdens consumers with higher insurance premiums but also endangers lives,” said Acting 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.”
“This egregious act of arson for profit endangered the lives of the public and first responders while robbing taxpayers of resources from the mission of protecting the public,” said James Liscinsky, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of ATF NY Field Division. “I commend the work of our investigative partners with the town of Newburgh Fire Investigation Unit, the Town of Newburgh Police, the Westchester County Police Arson K9 Unit, and the NYS Department of Financial Services – Fraud Bureau Arson Unit. I’m proud of ATF’s Forensic Auditor, Certified Fire Investigator and Fire Research Lab for the instrumental support and expertise they provided. Investigative successes like this are a testament to the interagency cooperation united in the common goal of keeping our communities safe.”
District Attorney Hoovler highly commended Executive Assistant District Attorney Stewart Rosenwasser for his prosecution of the case, as well as Senior Assistant District Attorney Ryan Greenbaum, who assisted at trial.