The heart doctor targeted in what prosecutors called arson and murder-for-hire plots hatched by a rival physician came face-to-face in court Thursday with the man accused of setting fire to his Great Neck office.
Cardiologist Martin Handler testified that a February 2015 blaze at his Northern Boulevard building did $65,000 in damage about a month after he got a menacing phone call that referenced his ex-employee, Dr. Anthony Moschetto.
Prosecutors say Moschetto orchestrated a scheme to burn Handler out of business, hiring an accomplice who recruited the man now on trial, James Kalamaras, 42, to start the blaze. He is accused of using gasoline and a lighter to start the fire after getting inside with a key Moschetto supplied.StoryGetaway driver: I was 'too scared' to light fireStoryWitness: I arranged doctor’s office arsonStoryTrial in alleged arson at doc’s office starts
Two alleged arson accomplices now are cooperating with Nassau prosecutors and have testified at Kalamaras’ trial on arson, burglary and criminal mischief charges.
Moschetto, who faces a separate trial, has pleaded not guilty to 77 criminal counts that include arson, drug, weapon and murder-for-hire conspiracy charges.
Prosecutors say the relationship between the doctors had soured due to a professional dispute, and witness testimony has indicated money was at the heart of it.
On Thursday, Handler told Assistant District Attorney George Smit he was on a trip in Puerto Rico when his alarm company alerted him on the night of Feb. 25, 2015 that there was a problem at his office at 38 Northern Blvd.
Surveillance cameras captured footage jurors saw in court depicting a figure in a hooded sweatshirt appearing to light a fire – and flames leaping to the person’s arm – in what Handler identified as a stairway in his building.
The blaze followed what Handler said was a Jan. 18, 2015 call he got warning there would be consequences for Handler’s family if he interfered with Moschetto at his office the next day. Moschetto wanted to collect personal belongings and a fish tank.
“It was a threatening phone call,” Handler testified during a cross-examination, saying he didn’t recognize the voice on the other end but that the caller knew his home address.
“Your family would be hurt if you interfered with Dr. Moschetto?” defense attorney Steven Barnwell asked him.
“Yes,” the witness replied.
Handler also testified Moschetto had worked for him from 1994 until mid-November 2014.
The physician said the Jan. 18 call followed a Jan. 16 letter he got from a lawyer for Moschetto saying Moschetto would pick up his belongings Jan. 19.
The witness testified that Moschetto then showed up at his office at 7:45 a.m. on Jan. 19 with four or five other men, and they had no permission to be there.
“I called the police,” Handler testified.
In other testimony, Jose Santiago, 30, of the Bronx, said he looked Kalamaras straight in the face as Kalamaras left the building after flames had erupted inside.
But Santiago, who worked nearby, also said he’d first picked out two other men from police photo lineups as looking like the man who came out of the building that night, before he called 911.
The trial continues Monday.