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Plea Bargain In Seneca Falls Town Office Arson Case
FingerLakes1.com Exclusive - Greg Cotterill Reporting
June 23, 2005 @ 12:51 PM

A plea deal will avoid a trial and send a former New York Chiropractic College student to prison for several years in connection with the November 2004 fire that heavily damaged the Seneca Falls Town Office Building.

26-year old Christopher Chianese of New Jersey pleaded guilty Thursday morning in Seneca County Court to charges of arson in the 3rd degree and felony driving while intoxicated.

In a plea bargain worked out with the Seneca County District Attorney's Office, Chianese will be sentenced next month to 1 1/3-to-4 years in state prison for the felony DWI charge and 4 1/2-to-13 1/2 years for the arson charge. The sentences would run concurrently. If the case went to trial, Chianese could have received the maximum 5-to-15 years in prison for the arson charge.

Before acting Seneca County Court Judge Patrick Flakey, Chianese admitted on November 19th, 2004 around 4:00 am he broke a window on the first floor of the town office building and climbed inside. He said he spread gasoline around a court clerk's office and started the fire. He told the court he intended to destroy files and the building. Chianese admitted he was upset over his second DWI arrest and how it would affect his NYCC standing and getting his chiropractic certificate.

Seneca Falls Village Police had twice, once in May 2003 and again 15-days before the fire, arrested Chianese for driving while intoxicated. His blood-alcohol level was .12 when he was pulled over on November 4th, 2004. Chianese told the court that he was drinking beer at home before he left his East Bayard Street apartment. Chianese will have to pay a $1500 fine for the DWI charge and his family will have to pay restitution for the fire.

First Assistant Seneca County District Attorney Robert Mascari says the amount of the restitution is still unknown. A hearing will be held before sentencing to determine the exact amount that will have to be repaid. Seneca Falls Town Supervisor Peter Same says the town is still in negotiations with their insurance carrier and they cannot release the dollar amount of damage to the office building.  Same could only say it was "significant".

Chianese appeared in court today with his parents and brother. Judge Falvey allowed Chianese to remain free on $100,000 bail paid by his parents.   Chianese admitted to being addicted to alcohol and has been undergoing psychiatric treatment. Sentencing is scheduled for July 21st at 9:30 am.

Christopher Chianese (right) and his family arrive at the Seneca County Courthouse Thursday morning.  Chianese pleaded guilty to starting the fire last year that damaged the Seneca Falls Town Office Building. Photo by Greg Cotterill.

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