NEW YORK - The owner of a shuttered Queens restaurant is accused of trying to burn his own business down. The FDNY says the building's sprinkler system thwarted the plan.
The FDNY says Asif Raja, 54, of New Jersey, was arrested for allegedly using a flammable liquid to set multiple fires in the aptly named Ignited Restaurant & Lounge on Steinway Street in Astoria back on Aug. 4, 2020.
Firefighters were called for reports of a gas odor at 10:13 p.m. that night. They found the sprinkler activated as well as evidence of several small fires that were extinguished before they got there.
Fire marshals immediately responded and determined the fire to be suspicious. An extensive investigation in-cooperation with the ATF led to Raja's arrest on Monday. An FDNY official told FOX 5 NY that Raja is the owner of the lounge.
Authorities suspect that Raja set the fires due to money problems related to the pandemic, the New York Post reported. The restaurant had apparently been closed since March.
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"We are extremely grateful that no one was injured during this incident," Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said in a statement.
Raja is charged with one count of arson that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison with a maximum sentence of 20 years if convicted.
He was arrested and arraigned on Jan. 6, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, which is prosecuting the case. John Marzulli, the spokesman, had no comment on Raja's alleged motive.
A federal magistrate released Raja on a $140,000 bond. It was unclear if Raja had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.