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Palmer Man on trial for allegedly burning down rental property for $500k insurance payout

Palmer Man on trial for allegedly burning down rental property for 0k insurance payout

SPRINGFIELD — More than three years after a rapidly expanding fire from a building in Palmer sent its tenants fleeing, Joseph F. Guluni Jr. is on trial for multiple counts of arson and insurance fraud.

On June 4, 2019, a fire broke out at a six-unit property at 2002-2006 Palmer Road in Three Rivers. The fire started just after 8:30 a.m. that day when two of his tenants were at home.

After the fire alarm was raised, a person living on the second floor informed a woman on the first floor. According to investigators, the woman fled through a side door and the man narrowly escaped after retrieving his dog from the upper level. Due to the smoke filling the building, all their belongings were burnt to ashes.

State prosecutors say Guluni, 66, a cousin of Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Guluni, lit the fire himself when he was in dire financial straits.

A trial began Monday in Hampden Superior Court, with attorneys presenting dialectic versions of Jwala to a jury of seven women and eight men. The case is being handled by the Worcester County Prosecutor to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Assistant District Attorney Joseph A. Simmons told jurors that Guluni started the fire just days before his insurance policy on the property expired. The prosecutor said he bought the building for $30,000, and that it was in dire need of extensive renovations, which Guluni’s bankroll was not equipped for. He told the jurors that faulty wiring had caused a small electrical fire months earlier.

“He told one of the tenants that he wanted the building to burn down,” Simmons said during opening arguments Monday morning.

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Surveillance video from a neighbor shows Guluni’s blue Audi pulling up to the property just before 8:30 a.m., when he went inside the garage where a pile of construction and renovation materials was stored. There is a “flash” in the footage just before Guluni leaves the garage. He got into his car and drove out of the driveway, as smoke started billowing out a window 47 seconds later.

“Meanwhile, you can see smoke filling the garage,” Simmons told the panel. “It’s all on surveillance video, and you’ll be able to see it.”

Defense attorney Daniel D. Kelly argued that his client had not started the fire, and that it had been quietly smoldering before he reached the property. Furthermore, he argued that there was no meaningful financial gain that Guluni could realize, which could not be earned simply by selling his 10 other rental properties.

“If he really wanted a few hundred grand, he could have called a real estate agent,” argued Kelly. “This financial motive was born out of desperation.”

The fire quickly turned into an inferno and neighboring fire departments joined Palmer in fighting the fire and protecting nearby properties. A Palmer police detective wrote in a report that the tenants were lucky to escape with their lives.

Five cigarette lighters were found on a search of Guluni’s Audi. Kelly told jurors, but there were no signs of anything accelerating that could have started the fire. He said that no one was found at the scene.

“They searched his car and didn’t find a drop. That fire had been smoldering for a while,” argued Kelly.

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If convicted, Guluni faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The trial before Judge Edward McDonough Jr. is expected to last about 10 days.

6/4/2019 -Palmer- The Palmer Fire Department and firefighters from neighboring towns put out a house fire at 2002 Palmer Road in the Three Rivers section of Palmer. (Don Treiger / The Republican)

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