HUDSON — Barry Goldstein promised Stuyvesant resident William Travis $50,000 before having him set fire to his home for insurance money in October 2017, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Opening statements were given in Goldstein’s arson trial. 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.
Goldstein is accused of hiring Travis to set fire to his home at 290 Route 25 in Stockport on Oct. 1, 2017.
Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka spoke to the jury for about 20 minutes and defense attorney Roy Nestler, of Delmar, spoke for about 12 minutes.
Czajka laid out a scenario in which Goldstein groomed Travis, who has a mental disability, for several months before convincing him to burn down the home. Travis, who was seeking to regain custody of his children, was going to use his share of the insurance payout to hire a lawyer. Travis’s children were taken away by the courts because of his mental and emotional issues, the county’s head prosecutor said.
Travis, who was initially named as a co-defendant in the case, was expected to testify in the trial late Wednesday. He has been in jail since he was arrested for the arson Dec. 20, 2017, police said. He was charged with third-degree arson, a class C felony.
Prosecutors allege Goldstein, who had previously attempted to get an appraisal of his more than 4,000-square-foot home, was disappointed when he discovered its market value was only $300,000. Goldstein’s insurance policy was for $1 million.
“Barry Goldstein is not responsible for creating such a large policy, but that is what happened and he took advantage of it,” Czajka said. “Rather than selling that big, old house, he burned it down and attempted to collect the $1 million because he knew if he had sold it he would get nothing close to $1 million.”
Czajka also alleged Goldstein sold items from his property just before the fire. The burglar alarm was inactive the night of the fire, and wires were also cut to the outside surveillance cameras, he said.
The house burned to the ground. Goldstein volunteered and trained as a firefighter in the town of Stockport in 2004, and knew the dangers of firefighting, Czajka said.
“He [Goldstein] was responsible for putting those firemen in a position where they could become seriously physically injured or even die,” Czajka said.
Nestler said Goldstein owned the home with his late wife, Barbara, who died three years ago. All of Goldstein’s wife’s belongings, including jewelry, photos and other mementos, were destroyed in the fire, Nestler said.
“Every memory of his late wife was in that house, burned to the ground,” Nestler said.
Nestler said Goldstein and his wife regularly made meals for neighbors and for people in need. Nestler asked the jurors to use their common sense.
“The burden of the proof falls on the people,” Nestler said. “It never shifts to me or my client ... If we listened to what Mr. Czajka said, we could go home. What this was is a foreword to a mystery novel. Hang in there and pay attention. Don’t listen to the first thing you heard.”
Before Goldstein left for the weekend he closed down his home and moved his firearms to a safe in his barn, Czajka said in his opening statement. Nestler countered that Goldstein regularly locked his gun collection in a 1,100-pound safe whenever he was going on a trip.
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