NEWBURGH, N.Y. (NEWS10) — An Orange County Court jury convicted a Newburgh man on Monday for torching his Town of Newburgh restaurant in 2017. Zef Gjurashaj, 60, faces 25 years to life in prison on the arson conviction when sentenced in connection with the fire that destroyed Andiamo’s Restaurant at 5025 Route 9W in September 2017. On top of the arson charge, Gjurashaj was found guilty of conspiracy, reckless endangerment, insurance fraud, and tax fraud in connection with the blaze.
Before the trial, Gjurashaj’s co-defendant, Marina Gjurashaj, 38, of Yonkers, the wife of his nephew, pleaded guilty to arson and conspiracy for her role in setting the fire. As part of her plea deal, she testified against Zef Gjurashaj at trial.
Prosecutors argued that knowing the business was in a steep financial decline, Gjurashaj instructed his niece by marriage how to start the fire by removing a plug from a propane line in the kitchen and spraying an ignitable liquid on the floor, then opening the propane line and lighting the liquid. The fire ended up being so intense that it put firefighters, and Gjurashaj’s wife, who was present at the time of the fire, at grave risk of death.
After the fire, Gjurashaj presented his insurance company with fraudulent proof of loss, seeking payment for damage caused by the fire, and testified under oath about the fire. The investigation also revealed he underreported cash income from the restaurant as part of his state tax filings.
“Arson for profit is, by 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 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.”