The landlord identified this week by authorities as a person of interest in a fatal fire Dec. 22 on Park Street served a lengthy prison sentence for selling cocaine in Oswego County.
The drug cases and others, including his connection to a 1974 Syracuse bank robbery and murder, were extensively covered in the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper.
The newspaper stories report Jeffrey E. Alnutt’s disappearance during his 1981 Oswego County drug trial and how authorities tracked him down seven years later in the Philippines. After his extradition from that country, federal authorities charged him with aiding and abetting participants in the bank robbery. A bank janitor was shot to death during the robbery and acquaintances of Alnutt were charged, according to the published accounts.
A federal judge dismissed the aiding and abetting charges against Alnutt, but in 1988 in Onondaga County Court he pleaded guilty to drug possession and bail-jumping charges, the newspaper reported. He was sentenced in Onondaga County to a prison term to run concurrently with the 81⁄3- to-25-year term imposed in Oswego County, where the jury in 1981 had convicted him in absentia.
Alnutt, who currently owns nine properties in Fulton County, some of which are targeted in foreclosure actions, owned the Park Street building where 39-year-old Debra Morris, the upstairs tenant, died in the fire while trying to rescue a cat.
Fulton County District Attorney Louise K. Sira held a news conference Wednesday to announce that Morris’ death has been declared a homicide, that fire investigators believe the blaze was deliberately set and that Alnutt is a person of interest to authorities in the case.
Sira said Alnutt, who was staying that night in the downstairs apartment with a tenant, is not cooperating with police. She said fires at two other Alnutt properties — one in 2002 and the other in 2004 — are now being reviewed by investigators.
Alnutt’s lawyer, Robert Abdella of Gloversville, said he instructed his client not to talk to police but said Alnutt was anxious to cooperate.
Abdella declined comment on the incidents in the Syracuse area but said Alnutt told him the newspaper stories were false and that two separate grand juries considered his alleged role in the bank robbery case and did not indict him.
Sira declined comment on Alnutt’s Syracuse and Oswego County background.
Sira said Wednesday the cause of the Park Street fire was incendiary in nature. She declined to provide details. In the 2004 fire at Alnutt’s Steele Avenue, Gloversville, apartment building, fire officials said at the time that Alnutt’s daughter, a tenant there, left cooking oil heating on the stove.