Prosecutors seek long sentences for three convicted in Hereford House arson

Prosecutors have asked a federal judge to sentence former Hereford House co-owner Rodney J. Anderson to at least 19 years in prison for torching the iconic restaurant in 2008.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jess Michaelsen also asked the judge to sentence Anderson’s co-defendants, Vincent Pisciotta and Mark Sorrentino, to more than 20 years and more than 15 years in prison, respectively.

A jury in November convicted the men of conspiracy, arson and using fire to commit a federal crime. Jurors also convicted Anderson of mail fraud.

The prosecution’s recommendations emerged late last week in a series of memos filed with U.S. District Judge Greg Kays, who has scheduled sentencing hearings Sept. 9 for all three men.

All deserved substantial time because of the danger that arson presents for firefighters and even passers-by, Michaelsen argued.

“Anderson created an extremely dangerous and volatile situation to members of the public, employees and firefighters and other first responders,” Michaelsen wrote.

J.R. Hobbs, Anderson’s lawyer, noted in a court filing that more than 100 people had written letters on his client’s behalf, highlighting personal acts of generosity for employees and his work in youth, civic and medical charities.

“His history and characteristics justify a sentence as lenient as possible,” Hobbs wrote.

Sorrentino’s lawyer, N. Trey Pettlon, urged the judge to sentence his client to five years in prison. Pettlon asked the judge to rule that Sorrentino’s conviction for using fire to commit a crime, carrying a mandatory-minimum 10-year consecutive sentence, was too much like arson and violated his client’s constitutional protections against double jeopardy.

Testimony at trial showed that competition in 2008 from new restaurants in the Power & Light District threatened the Hereford House, which opened in 1957 and had begun to show its age. Anderson, who was deep in debt, conspired with Pisciotta and Sorrentino to burn the restaurant and get insurance money that would have allowed him to remodel and rebuild, prosecutors said.

Anderson eventually filed insurance paperwork claiming a $2.4 million loss in the fire.