Closing arguments delivered in Hereford House arson trial - KCTV5 News

Hereford House owner, 2 others found guilty of torching restaurant

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A federal jury found Wednesday that Rod Anderson hired two men in 2008 to torch the downtown Hereford House restaurant in a bid to collect insurance money.

Anderson, a part owner of the Hereford House restaurant chain, was found guilty on four counts. The counts were conspiracy to commit arson and mail fraud, arson, mail fraud and using fire to commit a federal offense.

The two men that prosecutors said he hired were found guilty on three of the four counts. Vincent Pisciotta and Mark A. Sorrentino were acquitted of mail fraud charges.

The men face at least 15 years in prison without the possibility of parole. Anderson rejected plea deals that would have had him serving a fraction of the time.

After the verdict, U.S. Marshals took the three men into custody before they had tearful goodbyes with family members.

Jurors deliberated eight hours over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday before issuing the verdict.

Closing arguments were heard Tuesday morning at the downtown federal courthouse.

In closing remarks, prosecutors said Anderson was out of options - his restaurant in Lawrence was failing, the landmark one at 20th and Main streets in Kansas City was struggling and he needed cash to keep afloat. Prosecutors said he met with one of the two men to give that man a key and show him around the place so that they could burn it.

Prosecutors said Pisciotta and Sorrentino placed about 14 containers of gasoline around the restaurant during the early morning hours of Oct. 20, 2008.

The defense said Anderson didn't have a reason to torch the restaurant. They said the insurance money he would have gotten wouldn't have been enough to turn the restaurant around. They also said he met with one of the men because he thought the man was an investor.

Anderson also owned a small fraction of the business and defense attorneys said he wouldn't have collected enough money to make a difference.

Anderson did file a $2.4 million insurance claim. Anderson was found guilty of the mail fraud because he signed the paperwork and collected a $300,000 advance, but the men weren't since they did not.

Defense attorneys brought forward a parade of people who knew the two men who said that was not them on the surveillance video. However, defense attorneys didn't provide a reason for why someone else would want to torch the restaurant.

Prosecutors said Anderson's mistake involving the surveillance video was the key to his undoing. Anderson, who joined the restaurant in 1987, apparently was taken in by a security company's decoy.

The security company had set up a dummy video recorder next to a working video monitor in a room that was destroyed in the blaze. This was to trick burglars when the actual machines that recorded the surveillance video were locked in a supply closet at the corporate headquarters.

After the explosion and ensuing fire, Hereford House's chief financial officer, Jim Stanislav, turned over the surveillance video to investigators. According to testimony from Stanislav, that news apparently stunned Anderson since the arsonists did not take steps to mask their face and were caught on tape.

"The issue of arson was never in dispute," acting U.S. Attorney David Ketchmark said. "The issue of arson was never in dispute. It was very record readily on this was arson. The question was who was responsible. I think the tape established that... It was very beneficial that Mr. Anderson didn't realize those tapes were up there and they did survive the fire."

A third person on the tape has not been identified.

Jurors also weighed the truthfulness of Sorrentino's ex-wife. She testified that her then-husband came home sweating and red-faced after the fire would have been set. She received a $10,000 reward.

Defense attorneys said her player's card was used at an area casino during the hours in question and she had an ax to grind. The woman claimed a family member used her card.

Anderson rejected three plea deals from prosecutors before the trial began. Two of the offers would have required Anderson to serve just five years in prison. The final offer was for seven years in prison and that he had to cooperate with prosecutors.

He rejected those offers. Pisciotta and Sorrentino were not interested in plea deals so no negotiations ever occurred.

Defense attorneys did not comment after the verdict.

Stanislav, who provided key testimony against Anderson, issued a statement Wednesday evening on behalf of Hereford House.

"Our thoughts, support and prayers are with Rod, his wife and children. We want to remind you that Rod Anderson has been a generous community member for 25 years... employing thousands and contributing to countless charities and fundraisers," the statement reads. "Hereford House and Pierpont's at Union Station will continue to operate as before, providing the great food and great service that has made Kansas City proud."

Click here for previous coverage on this story. To read trial coverage by the Kansas City Star, KCTV5's reporting partner, click here.

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