First trial in connection with Saratoga Winners fire ended in mistrial

Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Correction: The age of Akiva Abraham, who was convicted Wednesday of insurance fraud, was incorrect in several recent stories in the Capital Region section. Abraham is 45.

ALBANY -- A second jury on Tuesday began hearing the case of Akiva Abraham, accused of setting last year's fire at the former Saratoga Winners nightclub on Route 9.

Abraham, 44, is on trial on charges of arson, insurance fraud and reckless endangerment ---- the same charges he faced in December, when a mistrial was declared.

The prosecution contends Abraham set the building he owned on fire on April 30, 2009.

In opening arguments, Assistant District Attorney Christopher Baynes told jurors that Abraham purchased four gallons of Tiki torch accelerant and boxes of flame logs at a Home Depot store in Clifton Park three days before the blaze. Baynes said investigators who visited Abraham's Rexford home on May 15, 2009, found the boxes that contained the torch fuel and logs empty.

Baynes questioned how, in the spring, in upstate New York, a person could use the torch fuel so quickly. He also told jurors Abraham had insurance on a $475,000 "bogus mortgage" on the building.

He said by the time Abraham was finished speaking to investigators, he was disassociating himself from the property.

"Follow your common sense," Baynes told the jury before acting Supreme Court Justice Dan Lamont. "Ask yourself what happened here."

In turn, defense attorney Bryan Rounds told jurors the case before them was devoid of any shred of direct evidence against his client.

"Let's get something straight," Rounds said. "This case is, in its entirety, a circumstantial evidence case."

If convicted, Abraham faces 5 to 15 years in prison.

In the last trial, deadlocked jurors broke for the Christmas holiday before resuming deliberations. They were undecided on a verdict -- 9 to 3 in favor of conviction -- when Lamont called a mistrial on Dec. 29.

The trial was not the first controversy for Abraham, who lost his medical license in August 2005.

Documents alleged the license was stripped for misconduct that included having sex with one patient against her will and inducing a patient's labor so the delivery of her baby would not disrupt his plans to go on vacation.

According to state Health Department records, Abraham was "guilty of engaging in conduct which evidence moral unfitness; practicing fraudulently; filing false reports; failing to main accurate records; having a psychiatric condition which impairs the ability to practice medicine and negligence on more than one occasion."

His past licensing issue did not come up during the trial.

Gavin can be reached at 434-2403 or