Flushing brothers accused of setting fire to their Huntington Station bagel cafe, where a volunteer firefighter died later that day, told authorities they did so to collect insurance money to pay off their debts, according to court records.
Sworn statements to Suffolk police tell of Robert Khaimov, 28, hatching the plan as business spiraled downward, while his younger brother, Natan Khaimov, 22, tried to change his mind but eventually drove the getaway vehicle on the night of the September blaze.
The brothers, each charged with second-degree arson, appeared in Suffolk District Court in Central Islip Monday as the wife of deceased firefighter Richard Holst and close to a dozen of his Huntington Manor Fire Department colleagues looked on.
Holst, 60, who was also the department chaplain, was not involved in putting out the fire. He died of natural causes after collapsing at the scene, where he helped coordinate rescue efforts.
Third assistant chief Frank McQuade said the volunteers attended the court proceeding Monday "to give Richie's wife moral and emotional support during this tough time."
The Khaimovs are each being jailed in lieu of $250,000 cash bail or bond, a spokesman for the Suffolk District attorney's office said.
Robert Khaimov's lawyer, Barry Black of Plainview, had no comment. Natan Khaimov was represented by a lawyer from Legal Aid.
In a sworn statement, Robert Khaimov detailed how he thought of the plan to torch his family's shop as bills mounted. "Natan and I were borrowing money from my Dad to keep the business going. Each time it became more difficult to ask," the statement said. "We were really stressed out. I came up with the idea to burn the business and collect the insurance money."
Natan Khaimov, who managed the shop with Robert, told police he initially tried to persuade Robert not to burn the store, according to a sworn statement. Ultimately, he waited in a vehicle near the shop while Robert entered the kitchen, dropped a book of lit matches on boxes, and kicked down a back door to escape, the statement said.