Newburgh restaurant owner sentenced for arson that was supposed to kill wife, niece
A former Newburgh restaurant owner will now serve 22 1/3 years to life in prison for orchestrating a fire that prosecutors say he purposely set to collect insurance money and kill his family.
Zef Gjurashaj, 61, sat quietly, shackled and handcuffed Wednesday when he learned he might live out the rest of his life in prison.
Prosecutors said that the former restaurateur should be sentenced to the maximum allowable by law for coaxing his niece, Marina Gjurashaj, to set a natural gas fire in 2017. That fire burned down Andiamo's on Plank Road in Newburgh.
They say Gjurashaj was motivated by financial problems and was facing eviction. They also say he thought an explosion would kill both his niece and his wife inside while it all looked like an accident.
“He victimized Marina to provide him with an alibi,” said Stewart Rosenwasser, counsel to the district attorney. “He would be safely home in his bed and Marina would be exposed to likely death.”
Gjurashaj was found guilty by a jury last year. His niece pleaded guilty and testified against him saying Gjurashaj told her to tell his wife to be there to clean the kitchen when she started the fire.
Prosecutors say Gjurashaj promised his niece he’d help with immigration and marital problems in exchange for acting out the plot.
Judge Craig Brown spoke before issuing the sentence.
“This defendant acted with an utter disregard for human life,” said Brown. He had absolutely no care and utter disregard of the lives of others.”
Gjurashaj’s defense attorney says this is not the case and that his client was wrongfully convicted.
“There was never an intent for anyone to be harmed,” said James Kousouros.
A supporter left court saying, “An innocent man was sentenced.” His attorney plans on filing an appeal.
Gjurashaj was also found guilty of conspiracy, reckless endangerment, insurance fraud, and tax fraud. He was sentenced to lesser, concurrent sentences for those crimes.
Marina Gjurashaj will be sentenced for her role in the fire under a plea deal in May.