Local News Spotlight

Hereford House defendant’s ex-wife recalls husband reeked of gasoline

Updated: 2012-10-26T03:51:30Z

By MARK MORRIS

The Kansas City Star

The ex-wife of a defendant in the Hereford House arson case testified Thursday that her husband came home smelling strongly of gasoline early the morning of the October 2008 fire.

Jenifer Sorrentino, who divorced Mark Sorrentino in 2011, said in federal court that she was awakened by screams on Oct. 20, 2008.

“He was screaming from the top of his lungs to have me come downstairs,” Jenifer Sorrentino said.

In the garage, she found her husband with his shirt off, she testified. He was “beet red.” “I immediately smelled this gas,” Sorrentino testified. “It was unbelievable.”

Mark Sorrentino, Vincent Pisciotta and Rod Anderson are on trial on charges of arson and fraud in federal court, accused of conspiring to torch the Kansas City dining landmark and fraudulently collect insurance money.

Jenifer Sorrentino also identified her ex-husband and Pisciotta in surveillance pictures taken at the Hereford House. She previously collected the $10,000 reward offered for assistance in the investigation. Prosecutors had protected her identity as a witness until the first day of the trial, when they disclosed her name to defense lawyers.

Under court order, the lawyers could not tell their clients of her identity until Wednesday.

Jenifer Sorrentino said she vividly remembered the 2008 incident with her ex-husband because it happened the morning after her Oct. 19 birthday.

That evening, she testified, she and her husband had an early dinner at the Argosy Casino and then returned home between 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. and watched television.

Pisciotta came by and picked up her husband, and she went to bed, Jenifer Sorrentino testified. Several hours later, her husband’s screams awakened her, she testified.

Mark Sorrentino’s lawyer, N. Trey Pettlon III, picked at inconsistencies in her story from the versions she’d given investigators over the years. Pettlon also suggested that the bitterness of the couple’s divorce, and her subsequent need for money, led her to fabricate the story.

“You would say anything, possibly, to ruin Mark Sorrentino’s life?”

“Not at all,” she responded.

Her testimony was cut short, however, when U.S. District Judge Greg Kays pulled her off the stand to allow prosecutors time to review documents that defense lawyers had obtained earlier in the morning.

The records from the 7th Street Casino showed that Jenifer Sorrentino’s “players” card had been used in Kansas City, Kan., from about 9:30 p.m. Oct. 19 to about 1:30 a.m. the next morning, about the time she had testified that her husband had returned home stinking of gasoline.

After lunch, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Becker asked Jenifer Sorrentino whether she had been at the 7th Street Casino the night of the arson.

“No, I wasn’t,” she replied, explaining that she often traded her card with her mother and other family members. “It was kind of a superstition.”

Robert L. Fritz Sr., the security manager at 7th Street, testified the casino had no way of knowing now, four years later, who used the card that night.

“The only thing we can track is the card being used,” Fritz said.

Jurors also heard Thursday from Rachel Calvert, a senior forensic auditor for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Calvert said that she had analyzed Anderson’s financial records and determined that as the Hereford House’s profitability waned in 2007 and 2008, Anderson took out $368,900 in loans and credit card cash advances to keep the business afloat. The business, she said, “was definitely having cash flow problems if you have to resort to these methods to make payroll or pay your bills.”

The net loss that Anderson reported in his 2009 bankruptcy filing for all of his ownership interests, which included restaurants in both Kansas and Missouri, totaled almost $3.6 million, Calvert said.

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

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