Hereford House owner's federal arson trial starts

Prosecutors: Early 911 call saved evidence

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The trial began Monday against Rod Anderson, a Kansas City restaurant owner, and the men accused of helping him set fire to the Hereford House in downtown Kansas City for insurance money.

Prosecutors called their first witness Monday afternoon after detailed opening statements. That witness was a nurse driving home from Children's Mercy in the middle of the night on October 20, 2008, who witnessed the Hereford House explosion and immediately called 911.

Prosecutors claimed that quick 911 call is the reason that not all the evidence, including surveillance video, was destroyed, as they said Anderson would have liked.

The video, prosecutors said, shows Anderson meeting up with defendant Vince Pisciotta weeks before the fire, then shows Anderson using a fired employee's alarm code. Security records show that same alarm code was used the night of the fire.

Prosecutors claimed more surveillance video shows three men unloading 14 five-gallon containers of gasoline in the bar area of the restaurant, leaving two ignition devices then exiting the restaurant minutes before the explosion.

Prosecutors also claimed Anderson was in dire financial straits in 2008, resorting to arson.

Defense attorneys admitted that Anderson had financial woes, but said they stemmed from the Lawrence Hereford House, where he had 100 percent ownership, not the restaurant destroyed on 20th Street, where he only had 2 percent ownership.

Anderson's attorney talked about a failed deal to sell the restaurant building and hotel next to it, with Anderson hoping to lease back the restaurant.

Anderson admitted to the meeting caught on surveillance video, but called the other man simply an out-of-town investor that he didn't know, who was interested in the restaurant-hotel deal.

Attorneys for the other defendants, Pisciotta and Mark A. Sorrentino, attacked surveillance video as the only evidence against their clients, claiming it could not be trusted because it was dark, grainy and showed no distinguishing features.

One defense attorney said prosecutors only accused their clients based on their childhood friendship to each other, not because of any evidence.

A third man seen in surveillance video is only called "the other man" and "suspect three" in the courtroom.

The trial resumes Tuesday, when 40 witnesses and more than 600 pieces of evidence are expected to be used.

Print this article Back to Top