A city teenager admitted in court Wednesday to starting the fire that destroyed the former Luigi’s restaurant, accepting a sentence of as much as 6 years in prison.
Joseph P. Colon, 16, of 626 Brandywine Ave., pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree arson, a felony. In exchange, Colon is to receive a sentence of 2 to 6 years in prison. He also will not receive youthful offender status, which would have sealed the conviction.
The final deal came after an initial offer from prosecutors was rejected by Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago. Judges must sign off on all plea deals. Prosecutors had offered a sentence of 1 to 3 years, with youthful offender status.
Drago called that offer “woefully low,” considering the severity of Colon’s actions. She also rejected the youthful offender component, saying the community needed to know about his behavior.
Colon was charged about a month after the July 5 fire, accused of using a lighter, paper and accelerant to set the blaze inside 1127 Barrett St., the building that formerly housed the long-closed restaurant.
Colon must also pay an amount of restitution to be determined. Papers filed in court have estimated the total loss around $50,000. The building has since been demolished.
Colon is to be formally sentenced Feb. 27.
Colon’s plea was the second in the case. Co-defendant Kevin Zimmer, 22, pleaded guilty earlier to one count of third-degree burglary. He admitted to entering the building with intent to commit a crime, though not necessarily arson.
In exchange for his plea, Zimmer is to receive 90 days in jail and 5 years’ probation.
At an October bail hearing, Zimmer’s family members conceded Zimmer was inside the building with Colon and a third person, but they said Zimmer wasn’t involved in starting the fire.
Zimmer’s family also said Colon and a third person fled after the blaze was started but Zimmer returned home and they called the fire department.
Zimmer is to be sentenced next week.
Prosecutor John Healy said it was clear Zimmer entered the building intending to do something, possibly commit a theft. Zimmer’s attorney, Steve Signore, on Wednesday commended Healy for assessing the situation and placing the correct value on it.
Healy said it has never been clear why Colon started the fire. Until Wednesday, Healy noted, Colon had always denied he was even there.
Colon is represented by attorney Sven Paul.
Firefighters were called to the Barrett Street building and an adjacent brick home around 4 a.m. July 5. They brought the fire under control in about 2 hours.
Fire investigators determined a point of origin in the restaurant’s old dining room, city fire Capt. Doug Faulisi said. They also found a pour pattern, which eventually tested positive for an accelerant similar to lighter fluid, Faulisi said.
Investigators also ruled out accidental causes. The building didn’t have power or gas, there was nothing being operated there and nobody lived there, Faulisi said.
Luigi’s went out of business in 2007, a year after longtime owner Marlene Hill was killed by her mentally unstable grandson. The restaurant was then seized by the state Department of Taxation and Finance and its contents sold at auction. The building remained empty and had been slated for demolition.
Both buildings ended up in the hands of the Schenectady Urban Renewal Agency, which is headed by the mayor and City Council.