October 19, 2013

Corsetti’s Market owner sentenced in Windham fire

He pleads no contest to three charges but does not admit to setting fire to an apartment building.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The owner of Corsetti’s Market in Windham was sentenced Friday to six months in jail as part of a plea agreement in which he did not admit to setting fire to the apartment building next to the market last year.

click image to enlarge

Donato Corsetti, right, appears in a Portland courtroom Friday, where he was sentenced to six months in jail. Next to Corsetti is his attorney, David Hirshon.

Scott Dolan/Staff Writer

Donato Corsetti, 67, pleaded no contest to a reduced felony charge and two misdemeanors as part of a deal in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court in Portland in which two more serious felony charges of arson were dismissed.

Corsetti was facing foreclosure when he was accused of setting fire to the apartment building on Dec. 7, 2012, supposedly in an attempt to make it look like a mob attack.

Justice Joyce Wheeler imposed a sentence, which was agreed to by Corsetti’s attorney and a prosecutor, of two years, with all but the six-month jail term suspended. The judge ordered Corsetti, who is currently free on $25,000 cash bail, to report to jail on Oct. 28, and then to complete two years of probation and 100 hours of community service after his release.

Under the terms of the agreement by his attorney, David Hirshon, and the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Ackerman, Corsetti entered no contest pleas to a felony charge of aggravated criminal mischief and to two misdemeanors, reckless conduct and failure to report or control a dangerous fire. In exchange, the prosecutor dismissed the two arson counts, each punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The judge found Corsetti guilty of the lesser charges.

“There has to be some jail time. You can’t have a sentence that diminishes the seriousness of these crimes,” Wheeler said in delivering the sentence. “But jail time does not do anything to rehabilitate someone.”

Wheeler said that Corsetti, who operated his market on Route 202 in Windham for 24 years, had once been a productive member of the community who gave generously to those around him before being accused of staging the fire.

He had no prior criminal record.

“I hope you will be able to hold your head high again,” Wheeler told Corsetti, who declined to make a statement at the hearing.

Ackerman called the case against Corsetti “very circumstantial” and said that by reaching a plea agreement, the state avoided what would be a lengthy trial to try to prove Corsetti’s motive and to prove those circumstances.

“The defendant and his wife were served with an eviction notice just two days prior (to the fire),” Ackerman said. “The total debt on the mortgage – on both the business and the apartment, was over $450,000.”

Ackerman said Corsetti had taken a “head in the sand approach” to his dire financial circumstances and did not respond to the foreclosure proceedings.

On the day of the fire, one of Corsetti’s employees was outside the market taking a break when she saw Corsetti in the window of the adjacent apartment building. She saw him smash the window with a floor lamp and stick his head out, according to court records. She also saw smoke.

The woman ran to the building, pushed open the door and got Corsetti to safety.

Corsetti was found with a lamp cord cinched around his neck in a slipknot. He told the woman to loosen it and said he was losing consciousness, according to an affidavit in his court file.

“He stated he awoke to find a lamp cord around his neck and wrists and the apartment filled with smoke,” Ackerman said, describing Corsetti’s claim that he had been targeted by mobsters from Rhode Island. “He told the investigators not to go through with the investigation and that he would take care of it by contacting ‘the boys’ in Providence.”

Corsetti’s tenants in the apartment building, two women and a young child, escaped without injury, but when police and firefighters arrived shortly afterward, the middle apartment in the three-unit building was “fully engulfed” in flames, Ackerman said.

Corsetti’s attorney said there was no evidence that Corsetti started the fire as a false insurance claim and that he no longer even owned the building because it had been foreclosed upon.

“He had no legal claim either in the ownership or insurance claim of this building,” Hirshon said. “There are no winners here, clearly.”

Hirshon said Corsetti stands by his statement that someone else tied him up and set the fire, though he said his client was only speculating on who may be responsible when he made statements about mobsters.

Corsetti, who appeared at the hearing in a dark suit and tie, didn’t comment and left with family members who attended in his support.

Scott Dolan can be reached at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@pressherald.com

Twitter: @scottddolan

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