Lodi business owners accused of burning down Salisbury Market in order to collect a sizable insurance payout were exonerated of all charges after both sides reached a settlement this week.
In return for dismissing charges of arson and insurance fraud against Elk Grove residents Prem Basuta, 47, Lulwinder “Kelly” Basuta, 48, and Gurmail “Gary” Singh, 55, the defense agreed to drop claims filed against the Lodi Police Department, Lodi Fire Department and the City of Lodi.
“For days they’ve been in stunned amazement that they’re out of this storm,” said defense attorney Michael Farley.
Detectives spent several months investigating two fires that damaged Salisbury Market, located at 2401 W. Turner Road, on Oct. 15, 2011.
After the market’s owners were arrested in May 2012, Farley filed several claims that scrutinized the fire department and investigators.
Farley claimed the Lodi Fire Department neglected to reactivate the market’s sprinkler system, which could have prevented the second fire. Another claim accused detectives of arresting the owners based on unreliable witnesses.
Farley filed a motion earlier this year asking a judge to dismiss the charges based on these accusations and what he called several more mistakes by investigators. A judge denied the motion and ordered the owners to stand trial, but expressed some doubt about the prosecution’s evidence against the owners.
San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney J.C. Weydert said despite what he believed was evidence of arson, a deal reached last Monday was in the city and prosecution’s best interest.
“There was always the awareness that (this case) wasn’t a slam dunk,” Weydert said. “But I don’t think it was a sure loser either. I don’t think there’s any dispute that the fires were intentionally set. The question was who ... and that was the issue.”
As part of the agreement, the District Attorney’s office will not be able to re-file charges against the Basutas and Singh.
Farley said his clients are “overjoyed,” but reeling from the financial consequences of this ordeal.
“They’re not going to recover the defense fees,” Farley said. “They were faced with these criminal charges, and what do they get for their troubles? Just a dismissal. This case should have never been prosecuted in the first place.”
The owners had a $1 million insurance policy on the market and have tried to collect more than $500,000 in damages. The Basutas and Singh will battle with their insurance company in hopes of collecting from their policy.
When asked if investigators made mistakes during the investigation, Weydert said: “It’s hard to second-guess. Everyone can dissect the football game on Monday morning. That’s not really fair. In every case ... there are some things in hindsight you could say you should have done differently.”
Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.