December 26, 2012

Windham fire explanation too 'sensational' for investigators

Court papers say Donato Corsetti staged the fire to collect on an insurance policy.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The owner of an apartment building in Windham that burned on Dec. 7 is now suspected of setting the fire and then tying himself up to make it look like a mob hit.

click image to enlarge

This Monday, Dec. 10 photo shows a three-unit Windham apartment building on Gray Road that was damaged by fire. The owner of the building is now suspected of setting the fire and then tying himself up to make it look like a mob hit.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

This Monday, Dec. 10 photo shows a three-unit Windham apartment building on Gray Road that was damaged by fire. The owner of the building is now suspected of setting the fire and then tying himself up to make it look like a mob hit.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

Investigators with the state Fire Marshal's Office have not charged Donato Corsetti, 66, owner of the Corsetti's Market next to the apartment building. But officials say in court papers that they believe he set the fire to collect on an insurance policy.

"Donato's objective was to make the event so sensational by staging an attack that investigators would not suspect him as the perpetrator," wrote Christopher Stanford, senior investigator for the Fire Marshal's Office, in an affidavit in support of a search warrant.

Only Corsetti was hurt in the fire. People who were in an adjacent apartment got out safely.

Corsetti's apartment building and his own home had recently been foreclosed on, and he still owed more than $174,000, according to the affidavit filed Dec. 17 in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court.

He was served with eviction papers three days before the fire.

Reached Wednesday, Corsetti declined comment, saying his lawyer had advised him "not to say anything."

Firefighters were called to 447 Gray Road on Dec. 7 for a report of smoke coming from the middle apartment in the two-story, three-unit apartment building.

A worker at the nearby market saw Corsetti in a window of the apartment, then saw him smash the window with a floor lamp and stick his head out, the affidavit says. She also saw smoke. The woman ran to the building, pushed open the door and got Corsetti to safety.

According to the affidavit, Corsetti, with a lamp cord cinched around his neck with a slip knot, told the woman to loosen it and said he was losing consciousness.

Some of the cord, still attached to a floor lamp, was wrapped around his wrists -- which were behind his back -- and knotted, the affidavit says.

Corsetti was freed and taken by ambulance to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where he was treated for scrapes on his forehead and wrists and a possible concussion before being released, the affidavit says.

When investigators questioned Corsetti at the hospital, he told them he had been showing the apartment to someone who was interested in renting it when someone he recognized from a previous encounter jumped him from behind, the affidavit says.

Corsetti said the man had attacked him in October after being shown the apartment, the affidavit says.

Corsetti told police at the time of the fire that he did not want an investigation because he did not want to scare his employees.

While he was in the hospital, his wife, Belinda Corsetti, filed a claim with the insurance company.

An investigator with a dog trained to sniff flammable liquids found several areas in the apartment with traces of flammable liquid, and determined that the fire was set.

When police tried to interview Corsetti again, he said he had a concussion and his wife had told him he needed to rest and couldn't speak with them, the affidavit says.

Investigators then interviewed Corsetti on the day after the fire, at the police station, where he described two attackers, one tall and skinny and the other short and stocky, though he did not offer more details.

He said the men had nothing in their hands, there were no flammable liquids stored in the apartment and the lamps for the vacant apartment were kept in the closet.

Investigators challenged his story, and he changed it.

"He answered by telling us that he had lied the first couple of times and that it was actually a 'set up' by an organized crime group from Rhode Island that he would not identify as the Mafia," Stanford wrote in the affidavit. "He told us that they had come after him by mistake and that he was going to make some calls down in Rhode Island and have the problem taken care of."

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)