A cardiologist bent on ruining a rival’s business paid to have a Suffolk County man set fire to the Great Neck doctor’s office, a prosecutor said Monday before testimony began in a case connected to an alleged murder-for-hire conspiracy.
Defendant James Kalamaras, 42, is on trial for arson, burglary and criminal mischief charges. The tattoo artist and felon faces a top sentence of life in prison if Nassau County jurors find him guilty.
Prosecutors say Kalamaras set the Feb. 25, 2015, blaze for Sands Point cardiologist Anthony Moschetto, who they’ve separately alleged tried to arrange a hit on his former medical colleague in a scheme that included trading in drug prescriptions and assault weapons.StoryDA: New charge for man in murder plotStoryDA: 3 arrested in plot to kill rival docStoryOfficials: 3 arrested in murder-for-hire plot
“Anthony Moschetto wanted to burn his competition, Dr. Martin Handler, out of business. And he was willing to pay to get it done,” Nassau prosecutor Anne Donnelly told jurors Monday at Kalamaras’ trial.
“Money was discussed. Money was promised. And money was paid to this defendant,” she added.
But Kalamaras’ attorney, Steven Barnwell, attacked the prosecution’s case by questioning the credibility of expected testimony from two men the district attorney’s office said also were part of the arson.
The Mineola defense lawyer said James Chmela and Nicholas Baialardo had signed cooperation agreements with prosecutors, pleaded to fewer offenses than their initial charges, and noted that authorities could further reduce their charges.
He said both men had pleaded guilty in the arson case, and admitted to heroin and gun sales, along with involvement in an oxycodone sales scheme.
One even bragged to an undercover police officer that he wanted to pull up next to Dr. Handler in traffic and kill him with a shotgun, Barnwell said.
“The guys who sell AK-47s, the guys who contract murder hits on cardiologists, the guys who sell heroin on the streets, are the guys the district attorney wants you to believe to convict Mr. Kalamaras,” Barnwell told jurors.
The defense lawyer also said there was no fingerprint or DNA evidence, and a eyewitness to the fire at the Northern Boulevard building only saw the suspect for seconds and “identified two other guys first as coming out of the building.”
Moschetto, 55, has pleaded not guilty to a 77-count indictment and is awaiting trial separately after an investigation that authorities said started as an undercover drug probe.
Law enforcement officials reported discovering a hidden arsenal of illegal weapons in Moschetto’s home in a secret room behind a switch-activated moving bookshelf, and have alleged he tried to partially pay for the arson and foiled murder plot with drug prescriptions and weapons.
On Monday, Donnelly told jurors that fire eyewitness Jose Santiago was waiting nearby for a ride home from work and mistook Kalamaras for an office cleaner before he saw flames explode from a window and Kalamaras “look him straight in the face and take off running down the street.”
Donnelly, who is deputy chief of the district attorney’s Organized Crime and Rackets Bureau, said Baialardo would testify he struck a deal with Moschetto — who supplied a building key — to set fire to Handler’s office and recruited help.
Chmela will testify to giving Kalamaras the key, along with gasoline, a lighter, and clothing that included gloves and a bandanna before serving as his getaway driver, the prosecutor said.
Baialardo and Chmela also will recount paying Kalamaras part of the money he was owed for the fire, according to Donnelly.
She also said the prosecution case would include Kalamaras admitting guilt in his own words, part of a recorded call with Baialardo — who, records show, became a confidential police informant.
The recording includes Kalamaras “offering to do the job again if he got paid more money,” Donnelly said.
Court records show prosecutors had offered Kalamaras a plea deal that would have sent him to prison for 7 and ½ to 15 years, and that he plans to offer alibi witnesses.