Local News Spotlight

Hereford House defendant spoke of letting it burn

Updated: 2012-10-25T04:37:53Z

By MARK MORRIS

The Kansas City Star

After an October 2008 fire destroyed the Hereford House in Kansas City, restaurateur Rod Anderson said that he “might have to go to jail,” according to court testimony Wednesday.

James Stanislav, a financial officer for the company that owned the restaurant, related that and another damaging admission that he says Anderson made in the days after the blaze, which investigators determined was intentionally set.

Anderson, Vincent Pisciotta and Mark Sorrentino are on trial in Kansas City federal court, accused of conspiring to burn the landmark restaurant in order to claim insurance money.

Stanislav testified that on Oct. 21, 2008, the day after the fire, Anderson became distraught when he learned that someone had used the alarm code of a fired employee to enter the restaurant undetected.

“I think this might have happened because of me,” Anderson said, according to the testimony. “Times are tough and a couple of guys came to me and they had some stoves that were hot. I gave them codes and a key so they could bring them in. I may have brought this on.”

Stanislav testified that the following day, Oct. 22, he pressed Anderson as to whether he had told fire investigators about the “hot stove” issue. Anderson said he had not.

Anderson then told Stanislav that he and another corporate executive might have to look after Anderson’s wife for a while.

“I might have to go to jail,” Anderson said, according to Stanislav’s testimony.

The executive also recalled a conversation with Anderson in mid-2007 after an employee had been injured during a fire in the restaurant’s kitchen.

“He had burned his hands trying to put out the fire and I suggested we give him a bonus for doing a good job,” Stanislav testified.

Stanislav then recalled Anderson’s response as: “I don’t want to do that. I’d just as soon the place burn down.”

On cross examination, Anderson’s defense lawyer, J.R. Hobbs, focused on Anderson’s 2 percent ownership of the Hereford House at 20th and Main streets. Anderson, Hobbs has said, had no motive to burn his restaurant since his share of any insurance settlement would have been so small.

In other testimony, a Johnson County jail inmate became the second witness to identify Pisciotta from surveillance pictures as the man whom Anderson led through the restaurant in September 2008, about a month before the arson.

Jeremy Skaggs alleged that he met Pisciotta through the defendant’s girlfriend and once accepted a loan from him to operate an online basket sales business.

“It’s Vince,” Skaggs said when shown a surveillance picture. “It’s Vinny.”

On cross examination, Pisciotta’s defense lawyer, Larry Pace, noted that Skaggs could not identify his client when shown several pictures at a meeting with authorities in August.

Pace then quoted Skaggs from a record of that meeting: “The guy looks familiar, but Italians all look alike.”

Skaggs said he didn’t recall making that comment.

“I don’t remember saying that, but it sounds like something I’d say.”

Also Wednesday, Michael J. Balano, who works in his family’s jewelry business, testified under a grant of immunity signed earlier this week by U.S. District Judge Greg Kays.

Balano, who acknowledged knowing all three defendants, previously had refused to testify, citing his right against self-incrimination.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Becker questioned Balano about a series of phone calls to Anderson on the day of the fire and to other defendants and their associates in that general period.

Balano responded that he didn’t recall the topics of those conversations.

“I really don’t remember,” Balano said in response to two of the questions.

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

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