On February 14, 2023, following a six-day jury trial, Joseph F. Gulluni Jr., 68, was acquitted of all charges of arson to defraud an insurance company related to a fire that destroyed a six-unit property he owned in Palmer on June 4, 2019.
Tenants lucky to escape with their lives
The fire broke out in the morning while two tenants were home. The fire quickly turned into an inferno, and neighboring fire departments joined Palmer in fighting the blaze and protecting nearby properties. The two tenants escaped unharmed but lost all of their belongings. A Palmer police detective reported that these tenants were lucky to have escaped with their lives
Neighbor’s webcam showed Mr. Gulluni at the property just before the blaze starts
Mr. Gulluni’s blue Audi had been captured on a neighbor’s surveillance video pulling up to the property just before 8:30 a.m. on the day of the fire. The footage showed him walking into the garage where construction and renovation materials were stored, with a “flash” on the footage just before he left the garage. Smoke began to appear through a window 47 seconds later, and the surveillance video captured the smoke filling the garage.
A police search of Mr. Gulluni’s Audi turned up five cigarette lighters, but there were no signs of an accelerant that would have hastened a fire.
Indictments for arson of a dwelling and burning a building to defraud its insurer
After further investigation, Mr. Gulluni was indicted by a grand jury for arson of a dwelling and burning a building to defraud an insurance company. The insurance company involved in the indictment was Penn-American Insurance. Convictions on the indictments carried up to twenty years in state prison.
The Commonwealth argues a financial motive to burn the building for its insurance
During the six-day jury trial, the Commonwealth argued that Mr. Gulluni had started the fire due to financial problems. He had purchased the building for $30,000 and was unable to finance the extensive renovations it required. The Commonwealth also proved that the fire occurred just days before Mr. Gulluni’s insurance policy on the property would lapse.
The defense argued that he had not started the fire and that it had been quietly smoldering before he arrived at the property. Furthermore, the defense argued that Mr. Gulluni had no significant financial gain to be achieved by starting the fire, as he could have sold one or more of his other ten rental properties for a similar amount.
The jury finds reasonable doubt on all charges
The jury deliberated for two days before rendering not guilty verdicts on all four felony indictments related to the fire and the alleged insurance fraud.