HUDSON — Barry Goldstein, 76, of Stockport, was convicted Wednesday on two of three charges for hiring another Columbia County man to burn down his home to obtain a $1.3 million insurance policy.
The jury of eight men and four women found Goldstein guilty of first-degree insurance fraud, a class B felony, and third-degree arson, a class C felony. He was acquitted of first-degree reckless endangerment, a class D felony.
William Travis, 33, of Stuyvesant Falls, the man accused of setting the fire, was charged with third-degree arson, a class C felony, and has been in custody since Dec. 20, 2017, on $25,000 bail or $50,000 bond. His case has not gone to trial and he has not been indicted.
Travis testified against Goldstein during the trial.
Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka said he does not know what will happen to Travis.
“I commend Sheriff David Bartlett’s investigators, [Patrick] Logue and [Reagan] Anderson, and state fire investigators Richard Daus and John Fairclough, and Assistant D.A. Joyce Crawford,” Czajka said after the verdict was read. “I am extremely grateful no firefighters were injured.”
The jury deliberated for about two hours Wednesday afternoon before reaching a verdict.
In closing arguments, each attorney spoke for more than an hour. Defense attorney Roy Nestler went first. Nestler, as he did in his opening statements Jan. 8, called on jurors to use their common sense as he went through the individual points of the prosecution’s case that he said did not add up.
It did not make sense, for instance, that prosecutors said Goldstein put the accelerant, a can of denatured alcohol, on the front porch of his home for Travis to pick up and use instead of putting it inside the home, Nestler said. Also, it did not make sense that Travis used the front door instead of the back door.
“Why would he [Travis] relock the door after,” Nestler said.
Goldstein, a former Stockport firefighter, has no criminal record. He lived in the home with his wife of more than 20 years. The couple owned a catering business and served the leftover food regularly to neighbors and families in need.
It did not make sense that Goldstein, who loved his wife, would burn down the home they built together, Nestler said.
Nestler asked the jury to review the recorded interviews between Goldstein and the police.
“See if there is any admission [by Goldstein],” Nestler said, adding that Goldstein never said he committed a crime.
At times, Nestler became incredulous at the prosecution’s assertions: “Is this a movie I am watching?”
Nestler said he had a hard time believing Travis, who has a learning disability and was fired from numerous jobs for not completing tasks, could have carried out a plot to destroy a home.
“He couldn’t follow tasks at Dunkin Donuts,” Nestler said.
When Nestler finished, it was the prosecution’s turn. Czajka, with the help of Assistant District Attorney Joyce Crawford, laid out a timeline for the course of events leading up to the alleged arson.
“As early as 2017, he [Goldstein] tried to sell his house,” Czajka said.
Goldstein also called Farm Family Insurance in Kinderhook on Sept. 18 to make sure his insurance was up to date. Goldstein also had an estate sale on the property. He went to two real estate agents to determine the cost of the house in 2016. An insurance agent testified that she believed the value of the house on the insurance policy was inadvertently inflated. The two real estate agents determined the house was worth about $300,000, a figure far below the amount listed on the insurance claim, Czajka said.
“If he was a victim, he [Goldstein] would not have acted the way he did,” Czajka said.
“[Travis] was incapable of coming up with this plan,” Czajka said.
Goldstein admitted to investigators in a recorded interview that Travis told him he set the fire weeks after it happened. But Goldstein never told the police, told his insurance company, or canceled his insurance claim.
“I didn’t want to get him [Travis] in trouble,” Goldstein said.
Prosecutors also pointed out that, without prompting, Goldstein brought up to investigators the can of denatured alcohol — the substance Travis said he used as an accelerant.
After Travis admitted to the crime, investigators went to visit Goldstein at his home to tell him that they had some news.
Goldstein’s response was, “Tell me you found out who burned down my house,” police testified.
In a phone call between Travis and Goldstein recorded by police on Dec. 20, Goldstein also can be heard saying to Travis, “You never should have admitted it.”
Goldstein also said, “I know you got nice and weak. I knew you would. That’s great.”
Insurance fraud carries a maximum of 25 years in prison in New York, according to state sentencing guidelines.
Czajka told the jurors that they were not allowed to take the possible prison sentence into account as part of their deliberations.
To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to email@example.com, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.