Federal trial begins in Hereford House arson case - KCTV5

Federal trial begins in Hereford House arson case

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The downtown Hereford House was definitely torched.

Federal jurors will decide whether Rod Anderson, part owner of the Hereford House restaurant, hired men to torch the restaurant on Oct. 20, 2008. The restaurant at Main and 20th streets is now a vacant lot with grass growing where steaks use to sizzle.

Jurors have been chosen and opening statements were given Monday. Retired Fire Chief Smokey Dyer was the first witness called by federal prosecutors.

The U.S. government alleges that Anderson hired Vincent Pisciotta and Mark A. Sorrentino to burn the restaurant so that he could collect insurance money and rebuild. The alleged motive is that the steakhouse was struggling and need an infusion of cash to compete with the newer restaurants at the Kansas City Power and Light District.

"He was out of options to keep his business open," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jess E. Michaelsen said, according to the Kansas City Star, KCTV5's reporting partner. "He was out of options to fulfill his dream."

But Anderson's high-powered defense notes that Anderson owned so little that it would make no sense for him to set fire to the business. He also managed other Hereford Houses and Pierponts at Union Station.

"There is no personal or professional motive on behalf of Mr. Anderson," defense attorney J.R. Hobbs said.

Anderson filed a nearly $2.5 million insurance claim. The insurance has refused to pay, citing the pending criminal case and questions about Anderson's involvement.

Much of the case will revolve around exactly who is shown on grainy surveillance video of two men hauling plastic containers into the restaurant. Prosecutors say they were filled with gasoline and could have ignited a flash fire. The fire suppression system, including the sprinkler system, had been turned off.

Before jurors began hearing the case, it was revealed that Anderson has repeatedly turned down plea deals. He has long maintained that he had nothing to do with the fire. Attorneys for Pisciotta and Sorrentino have also rejected plea deals and say that is not their clients on the surveillance video.

Anderson allegedly gave Pisciotta a key and security code, according to prosecutors.

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