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Coffee shop arsonist gets 4-12 years in prison

Though vowing to prove his innocence, former Buffalo coffee shop owner Lon Coldiron was denounced by a judge Tuesday for the insurance arson that destroyed his shop, damaged adjoining property and endangered firefighters five years ago.

Coldiron was given a near-maximum four- to 12-year prison term on his July 27 conviction for third-degree arson and attempted grand larceny.

Erie County Judge Thomas P. Franczyk also ordered him to pay $250,000 in restitution to Travelers Insurance Co., which had compensated his Elmwood Avenue landlord for the fire damage.

"I'm still innocent," Coldiron, 43, insisted during Tuesday's sentencing. He has been jailed since the jury verdict.

The judge noted that prosecutors Mark A. Sacha and Amy B. Benedict proved that Coldiron, despite recommendations that he close Coffee & at 718 Elmwood Ave., applied for about $290,000 in business insurance a month before the fire. The fire occurred just before an insurance company inspection of his business was to take place, prosecutors said of the scheme that resulted in the attempted grand larceny charge.

Sacha and Benedict also had presented evidence that the state Department of Taxation and Finance had been hounding Coldiron for $24,000 in overdue sales tax payments, that he had casino gambling debts and only $800 in the bank at the time of the fire.

Coldiron had been spared a jail term after a jury three years ago convicted him of attempted grand larceny and he was placed on probation. He was granted a second trial after an appellate court found juror misconduct in the first trial.

Franczyk accused Coldiron of gambling at nearby casinos "like a drunken sailor" while his shop lost money and of costing an elderly female investor her financial stake in the business.

Franczyk could have imposed a maximum prison term of five to 15 years on the jury conviction. Prosecutors had pressed for the stiff prison term, noting how the 2004 arson threatened the lives of the firefighters called to deal with it, including Lt. Charles W. "Chip" McCarthy Jr., who was killed along with Firefighter Jonathan S. Croom in an Aug. 17 blaze.

John K. Jordon, Coldiron's lawyer, said the second conviction also will be appealed.

In rejecting Jordan's bid for a lenient sentence, Franczyk cited evidence that prior to the 2004 arson Coldiron boasted of torching a friend's vehicle and garage, with his friend getting fully compensated by an insurance carrier.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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