Restaurant arsonist sentenced to lengthy prison term


GOSHEN – Former Town of Newburgh restauranter Zef Gjurashaj, 60, of Newburgh, was sentenced to a total of twenty-two and one-third years to life in prison for having burned down his restaurant for profit in 2017.  On September 26, 2022, Gjurashi was convicted of crimes including arson, conspiracy, reckless endangerment insurance fraud, and tax fraud by a jury. The sentencing was announced by Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler on Wednesday.

Zef Gjurashaj, convicted on all counts.

Prior to the trial, Gjurashaj’s co-defendant and the wife of his nephew, Marina Gjurashaj, 38, of Yonkers, pled guilty to arson and conspiracy for her role in setting the fire at Andiamo’s Restaurant.  As part of her plea agreement, Marina Gjurashaj testified against Mr. Gjurashaj. During the sentencing proceedings the prosecutor, Executive Assistant District Attorney Stewart Rosenwasser, 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.

Prosecutors proved to the jury that the defendants conspired with each other to intentionally burn down the Route 9W restaurant in the Town of Newburgh in September 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’s wife, who was present at the time of the fire, at grave risk of death, according to Mr. Hoovler.

Mr. Gjurashaj had arranged for his unsuspecting wife to be present in the restaurant at the time he ignited the fire but did not tell her of the plan.

Zef Gjurashaj was sentenced to twenty years to life in prison for the arson and the concurrent terms of eight and one-third to 25 years for the conspiracy, two and one-third to seven years for reckless endangerment, five to 15 years for insurance fraud, and one year for criminal tax fraud.  

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 pertaining to them.

Hoovler thanked the federal, state, and local authorities and first responders who assisted in the investigation, apprehension, and conviction of the two defendants. 

“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 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,” Hoovler proclaimed.

District Attorney Hoovler also 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 the trial.