STOCKPORT — A former volunteer firefighter was charged Wednesday in connection to allegedly setting fire to his house in October 2017 for $1 million in insurance.
Barry Goldstein, 74, of Stockport, was arraigned in Columbia County Court on charges of first-degree insurance fraud, a class B felony; third-degree arson, a class C felony; and first-degree reckless endangerment, a class D felony.
Goldstein is suspected of setting fire to his home at 290 Route 25 in Stockport on Oct. 1, 2017, for insurance funds, which put neighbors and firefighters at risk.
Goldstein, via his attorney Roy K. Nestler, of Delmar, pleaded not guilty to the charges Wednesday.
“This [Goldstein’s arrest] was a surprise to us,” Nestler said to the judge.
Goldstein is accused of filing an insurance claim Oct. 2, 2017 — a day after the fire.
“An accelerant was used,” Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka said.
Czajka declined to comment further, saying the details of the crime would come out in the course of the trial.
Goldstein has been living on the county Route 25 property in a makeshift home, where he was arrested Wednesday, Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett said.
William P. Travis III, 32, of Stuyvesant, is also suspected of setting fire to the home and will be tried as a co-defendant in the case, according to a statement from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.
Travis was charged Dec. 20, 2017, with third-degree arson, a class C felony; in connection with the Oct. 1 fire that destroyed the Stockport home on Route 25.
Travis traveled to the residence Oct. 1, 2017, and started a fire that completely destroyed the home, according to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office in December.
On Aug. 30, the Columbia County District Attorney’s office requested delaying a plea proceeding in the case against Travis. The request to delay the proceeding was the second this year.
Czajka declined to comment on Travis’ connection to Goldstein or his motive, saying it would come out during the trial. Goldstein was out of town and no one was inside the home when the fire started, fire officials said in October 2017.
“The circumstance in which they [Travis and Goldstein] committed the offense, as well as the circumstances in which they [police] eventually investigated and prosecuted, will come out during the course of the trial,” Czajka said.
Goldstein was taken to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office for processing Wednesday after his arraignment.
“It is a shame it came to this conclusion, because setting your house on fire as the individual is alleged to do, really put a risk to a lot of firefighters,” said Bartlett, who is also a volunteer firefighter. “It is pretty sad.”
Police from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office investigated the blaze for more than a year.
“This is not CSI [TV show] where this happens overnight and the person is caught,” Bartlett said. “It takes time.”
Assistant District Attorney Ryan Carty is prosecuting the case against Goldstein. Carty asked for no bail at the arraignment.
Nestler, citing Goldstein’s age and lifelong ties to the community — including being a former volunteer firefighter — and no prior felonies, asked Goldstein be released on his own recognizance. Goldstein’s bail was set at $25,000.
Czajka called attention to the reckless endangerment charge against Goldstein.
“The grand jury found this conduct put many persons’ lives in danger, including the firefighters, who fought this fire throughout the night,” Czajka said.
Travis is being held in Columbia County Jail in lieu of $20,000 bail.
Goldstein is due back in court May 10 for a pretrial hearing. A trial date is set for Sept. 9 and is expected to last two weeks.
“I have nothing but the highest praise for Sheriff Bartlett and his team including investigator Reagan Anderson,” Czajka said.
Bringing the Oct. 1, 2017, fire under control required manpower and many hours from several nearby volunteer fire departments.
About a hundred firefighters worked from 10 p.m. to 7 p.m. the next day to make sure the blaze and all hotspots were completely extinguished.
The size and age of the home were challenging for firefighters and required a staggering amount of water, Stockport Volunteer Fire Company Second Assistant Chief Matthew Tuczynski said last October.
Nearby hydrants with limited water supply meant many tankers at the scene had to draw water from other sources, including Claverack Creek, Tuczynski said.
What remained of the structure was torn down the day after the blaze.
Fire departments from Stottville, Stuyvesant, Stuyvesant Falls, West Ghent, Ghent, Mellenville, Greenport, Niverville, Claverack, Hudson and Germantown were called to the scene or provided mutual aid.
To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.