Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Day Three: Hereford House trial is juicy, but not exactly sizzling...

A dispatch from day three of the Hereford House trial.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 24, 2012 at 3:58 PM

After the 2008 fire, the original Hereford House was an overcooked mess.
  • After the 2008 fire, the original Hereford House was an overcooked mess.

The third day of the federal trial against restaurateur Rod Anderson and his alleged co-conspirators — Vincent Pisciotta and Mark Sorrentino — had plenty of meat, including a revelation from the chief financial officer of the company that owned the downtown Hereford House, James Stanislav, when he told the jury that Anderson told him, soon after the 2008 fire that destroyed the restaurant, "I might have to go to jail."

Anderson, Pisciotta and Sorretino face four counts of felony fraud, conspiracy and arson. The prosecution alleges that the men planned and executed the arson that destroyed the original Hereford House restaurant, at 2 East 20th Street, in the early morning hours of October 20, 2008.

Two former Hereford House employees also testified this afternoon: Tom Brooks, a general manager and director of operations for the downtown Hereford House until 2008 (when asked if he was currently employed, Brooks said, "I make hamburgers"), and Aaron Ray Rose, who was another Hereford House general manager until he was terminated in August 2008. After Rose left the restaurant company, he continued to receive phone calls from the security company operating the downtown restaurant's security system, and, according to the government's case against the plaintiffs, Anderson gave Rose's still-active security code to Pisciotta and Sorrentino to use to enter the Hereford House on the evening of October 19, 2008, in order to burn the building down.

Rose, who now works for a Honda dealership, denied ever using his alarm access code after losing his job with the Hereford House. U.S. attorney Jess Michaelson displayed a document showing that Rose's code was used several times after his dismissal, including the early morning of September 27, 2008, when Anderson allegedly gave Pisciotta and Sorrentino a tour of the venue, and the night of the fire on October 20, 2008. When shown the surveillance-tape photos from September 27, Rose identified Anderson but could not identify the two men with him in the restaurant. He also could not identify the suspects in the surveillance footage from October 19, 2008.

Both Rose and Brooks were aware of the security cameras throughout the restaurant and where the DVR that actually recorded footage was located— there was a monitor and a "dummy" DVR in one of the upstairs offices. Both men had also seen a drawing — a rough architectural rendering — of a building that Anderson hoped to build on the location occupied by the original 1957 Hereford House.

Brooks testified that the downtown Hereford House had suffered from slow business in 2008, which he attributed to the downturn in the economy and the recent addition of the Power & Light District restaurants to the neighborhood. "Business dropped off after the Power & Light District opened, but we were cash-flowing," he said. "We were breaking even. And we always did much better in the fourth quarter because of holiday parties and banquets."

Rose testified that the Hereford House building had ongoing maintenance issues: "The kitchen air-conditioning unit kept going in and out. I asked Mr. Anderson if it could be repaired, and he said to keep it going through the summer, that he did not want to replace it."

The trial continues tomorrow.

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