A failing restaurateur who conspired with members of his family to burn down his Hudson Valley business as part of an insurance fraud scheme is facing a host of charges, authorities announced.
Orange County resident Zef Gjurashaj, age 59, of Newburgh, and his nephew’s wife, Yonkers resident Marina Gjurashaj, age 37, were indicted and charged with a series of crimes for allegedly conspiring to burn down his restaurant in 2017.
Specifically, the two were charged by an Orange County grand jury with:
- First-degree arson;
- Insurance fraud;
- Tax fraud;
- Various other offenses.
Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler said that the indictment alleges that the two conspired with each other to intentionally burn down Andiamo’s Restaurant on Route 9W in Newburgh in September of 2017.
It is alleged that Zef Gjurashaj, who was operating the restaurant in the fall of 2017, knew that his business was in a steep financial decline and decided to burn it down for insurance purposes.
Hoovler said that three weeks before the fire, he hired his niece, Marina Gjurashaj to work at the restaurant.
The investigation into the fire found that on Sept. 6, 2017, Marina Gjurashaj intentionally set fire to the building for the financial benefit of her “uncle”.
Thereafter, beginning in December 2017, Zef Gjurashaj, presented fraudulent Proof of Loss papers to his insurance company seeking payment for damage caused by the blaze.
As part of that scam, it is further alleged that Zef Gjurashaj submitted additional fraudulent documents to the insurance company through 2018. On two occasions in 2018, he also testified falsely during an Examination Under Oath (EUO) conducted by the insurance company regarding observations of the scene of the fire.
“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 said in a statement. “The utter disregard for human life and property exhibited in this case is appalling.
“(Their) selfish actions, in this case, were allegedly motivated by pure greed,” he continued. ”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.”
Both Gjurashajs were arrested on Saturday, Nov. 27, and remanded to the Orange County Jail without bail. If convicted of the top arson charge, both face a term of between 25 years to life in prison.
“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 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.”
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