Local News Spotlight

Witness identifies defendant in Hereford House arson video

Updated: 2012-10-24T05:02:17Z

By MARK MORRIS

The Kansas City Star

A Kansas City man identified a defendant in the Hereford House arson case as one of the suspects seen in surveillance photos at the restaurant before it burned.

Shane Holt, whose identity prosecutors withheld from defendants and their lawyers until the eve of trial, said Tuesday that he recognized Vincent Pisciotta from a photograph distributed to the media after the Oct. 20, 2008, blaze destroyed the landmark Kansas City restaurant.

“That one looks like Vinny to me,” Holt testified after prosecutors put the photo on video screens in the federal courtroom.

Pisciotta, Mark Sorrentino and restaurateur Rodney Anderson are on trial for allegedly conspiring to burn the restaurant in order to make more than $2 million in insurance claims.

Lawyers representing Pisciotta and Sorrentino have said they plan to contest the government’s identification of their clients as the arsonists depicted in the surveillance images. They have contended that the images are too dim and blurry to support a clear identification.

Holt, 32, said he knew Pisciotta from seeing him in downtown bars and restaurants. After hearing of Pisciotta’s arrest for the arson in June 2011, Holt said he saw surveillance pictures in the media and recognized Pisciotta.

Prosecutors withheld Holt’s identity and that of a still-unidentified witness, who is expected to testify Thursday, saying both feared for their safety.

“It is anticipated that both of these witnesses will be provided funding to relocate from their present residences in Kansas City, Mo., following their testimony,” prosecutors wrote in a pretrial filing.

Pisciotta’s defense lawyer, Larry Pace, immediately sought to undermine Holt’s credibility, noting that the surveillance photos had been available for him to identify for years. Holt first spoke with investigators on Sept. 13.

“You have never said anything to law enforcement for four years?” Pace said.

“They came to me,” Holt replied.

Also Tuesday, an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives identified for the first time who collected the $10,000 reward offered for information in the arson case.

Special Agent Randy Roberts said he spoke with Jenifer Sorrentino, the former wife of defendant Mark Sorrentino, about the case in August 2010. She subsequently received the reward, Roberts said.

The couple had filed for divorce in Clay County in June 2010, with the final decree coming in April 2011, according to court records.

And jurors got their first look at three long video sequences taken from surveillance cameras at the restaurant.

The first, taken about 7 a.m. on Sept. 27, 2008, shows a man whom prosecutors have identified as Anderson opening the restaurant and meeting a second man for a tour.

Anderson has acknowledged the meeting, but said he thought he was meeting an out-of-town investor or someone who was trying to sell him some cheap stoves. Though Anderson has not identified the man, he did tell investigators that he gave the man a key to the restaurant and an alarm code, according to court records.

The second video was taken late on the evening of Oct. 12, 2008, and shows three men opening the restaurant and walking through after it had closed.

The final video, which began late on the evening of Oct. 19, shows three men bringing jugs filled with what later was identified as gasoline and starting the fire.

Prosecutors have alleged that two of the men in the October videos are Pisciotta and Sorrentino. They have not identified the third man.

To contact Mark Morris, call 816-234-4310 or send email to mmorris@kcstar.com.

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