HUDSON — William Travis, the alleged accomplice who said he set the fire at Barry Goldstein’s home in the hopes of getting a portion of the insurance money, testified on the fourth day of the arson trial Thursday.
Goldstein, 76, of Stockport, was arraigned Nov. 14, 2018, 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.
Travis testified for about 90 minutes Wednesday before court adjourned for the day.
District Attorney Paul Czajka and police allege Goldstein offered Travis $50,000 to set Goldstein’s house on fire to collect the insurance money. Goldstein allegedly decided on his plan after discovering the house was only worth $300,000, but an inflated insurance policy offered $1.4 million in the event of fire, according to the prosecution. Defense attorney Roy Nestler, of Delmar, who represents Goldstein, alleges that Travis, who had a key to the home, could have chosen to set the fire on his own.
“He [Goldstein] said it would be my choice or not if I wanted to work for the rest of my life,” Travis testified.
Travis, who wore a gray-striped jail jumpsuit and glasses, at times had trouble remembering what he said when he was questioned by investigators, but was clear on specific details about how he set the fire. His testimony lasted more than two and a half hours Thursday morning and was expected to continue through the afternoon.
Days before the fire, Goldstein and Travis sat on the front porch of Goldstein’s home where Goldstein told Travis how to set the fire, Travis testified. The two went up to the third-floor attic where Goldstein allegedly told Travis to splash an accelerant, an alcohol-based substance. Goldstein allegedly broke a light bulb to make it look like squirrels might have caused the fire.
Goldstein allegedly gave Travis a key to the home and told Travis to use the front door. The burglar alarm and cameras would not be active, Travis testified. Travis was allegedly told to wear all black clothes, according to his testimony.
“He [Goldstein] said if I got in trouble he would pay for a lawyer,” Travis said. “I’d get out of it.”
On Oct. 1, 2017, after getting a ride to and from the house with a friend, Travis went back to his apartment in Stuyvesant Falls at about 8 p.m. — about 30 minutes after he allegedly set the fire. While in the truck, Travis allegedly threw a rusty red and white paint thinner can out the window and into the woods. Travis testified that he had tucked the can between his sweatshirt and T-shirt.
Back in his apartment, Travis said he changed out of his all-black clothes into shorts and a tank top, turned the TV on and fell asleep. He was awakened at about 10 p.m. by a neighbor, the wife of a Stockport firefighter, who told him Goldstein’s house was on fire, according to the testimony. Travis then denied knowing anything about the fire.
Travis testified he went back for the can of accelerant the next day in case the police searched for it. He said he put the can in his garage next to other similar cans, where the police later found it. Travis said he broke Goldstein’s house key in half and threw it in his trash.
“Was that the smartest thing to do?” Nestler asked Travis, adding that Travis could have thrown the can in the garbage with the house key. Travis said he did not think much about it at the time.
Travis said he waited three days until contacting Goldstein because Goldstein told him not to call immediately after the fire. Goldstein met Travis at his apartment and they went to Goldstein’s trailer, which he had purchased from a neighbor weeks earlier to live in after the fire, Travis testified.
Travis was charged with third-degree arson, a class C felony. He testified he hopes to get a deal, such as time served.
“I am hoping I can go home,” Travis said. “But I did what I did. I have to take the punishment.”
Under cross-examination by Czajka, Travis testified he had not made a deal with the district attorney’s office in exchange for his testimony, but said he was hoping to make a deal after Goldstein’s trial. Travis has been in jail since his Dec. 20, 2017 arrest.
Nestler said to Travis that he only told police he set the fire after he was threatened by investigators that he would serve 30 to 40 years in prison. Travis initially told police he started the fire to cover up stealing used dishes and a book about wrestling, each of which were presented as evidence Thursday.
Travis said he eventually wanted to tell investigators the truth about how Goldstein had him start the fire because he had a guilty conscience.
Czajka and Nestler asked Travis about termination from numerous fast food chain restaurants where he worked for engaging in verbal arguments with his co-workers. Travis said the arguments never turned physical but he has since taken anger-management classes and was working on getting his GED certificate while in jail.
Travis met Goldstein six years ago through a cousin. Travis began doing odd jobs including yard work and woodworking, for Goldstein for $10 an hour. Goldstein gave Travis clothes and extra money at times when he couldn’t make the rent, Travis testified. Travis eventually came to see Goldstein as a grandfather figure, he said. Goldstein asked Travis to help organize an estate sale of items in Goldstein’s home before the fire, he testified.
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