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Scotia man convicted in Schenectady arson

Scotia man convicted in Schenectady arson

Blaze started after arsonist joked about setting the fire
Scotia man convicted in Schenectady arson

SCHENECTADY -- A federal jury convicted a Scotia man on Friday for setting a 2012 fire that destroyed a vacant building and mechanic's shop, officials said.

Duane E. Griffin, 35, was found guilty of arson after a weeklong trial in Albany. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison at his July sentencing, officials said.

No one was hurt in the March 17, 2012, fire, but the building at 605 Union St., next door to the Manhattan Exchange, was destroyed, along with a mechanic's shop next door -- on the opposite side from Manhattan Exchange.

Federal prosecutors said Griffin set fire to the former restaurant building using a propane torch after joking with friends.

Griffin wasn't charged with setting the blaze until August, more than five years after the fire.

The fire destroyed the three-story brick building, which had a canopy that read "Restaurant & Lounge," though it was unoccupied at the time of the fire. The site of both buildings is now a parking lot.

In paperwork filed ahead of trial, prosecutors alleged Griffin was a customer of the Manhattan Exchange. After the bar closed on March 17, 2012, he stayed around and helped with cleanup, along with four others, including two of Griffin's friends who worked at the bar.

Griffin and friends remained outside talking, and Griffin made a joke about someone burning it down before taking a propane torch and setting the fire himself, prosecutors said.

The investigation determined the fire to be arson. 

Investigators focused on witnesses, including patrons of the Manhattan Exchange, in the wake of the fire. They interviewed Griffin and his two friends, and all three said they knew nothing about the fire.

Investigators got their first break eight months later when they re-interviewed one of Griffin's friends, who said Griffin set the fire.

The case was investigated by the ATF and Schenectady Fire Department, and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rick Belliss.

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