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San Joaquin County district attorney makes case for Salisbury’s Market trial

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Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013 12:00 am

The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office reinforced its contention that the owners of Salisbury’s Market set fire to the store in order to collect a sizable insurance check.

It came in response to a motion filed by defense attorney Michael Farley, who is petitioning a judge to dismiss arson, insurance fraud and other charges stemming from a fire at the store in October 2011.

A San Joaquin County judge ruled that there was sufficient evidence for the case to proceed to trial. However, another judge will either uphold the ruling or dismiss the charges during a hearing on Monday.

In the nine-page statement, Deputy District Attorney James Weydert listed 21 reasons that an investigation, which lasted several months, led Lodi police to arrest Prem Basuta, 47, Lulwinder “Kelly” Basuta, 48, and Gurmail Singh, 55, on suspicion of setting their business ablaze.

Farley, however, says the statement failed to address the points he believes will persuade a judge to drop the charges.

“There isn’t any critical analysis done by the people that addresses my motion,” he said. “The evidence that the people are relying on is the same evidence that I criticized and demonstrated was factually wrong.”

Weydert stated the owners were anticipating severe financial difficulties.

A witness told investigators that the store’s refrigeration equipment, much of which was old and needing repairs when first purchased in 1988, appeared to be breaking down. A week before the fire, Joe Anema, a Lodi firefighter, told Lodi Police Sgt. Steve Maynard that produce had been moved from its regular storage unit and into beverage coolers. In addition, the owners didn’t have the money to pay for repairs.

On top of failing equipment, Weydert says the owners were struggling to make rent payments, with sizable other payments on the horizon.

Bruce Salisbury, who leased the market to the Basutas and Gurmail Singh, testified that he never received a rent payment during the same month as the fire. The owners were anticipating a $100,000 payment stemming from their loan.

The statement also claims that the owners twice asked for a rent reduction because of decreasing sales.

But Farley argues that sales had nothing to do with the owners asking for a rent reduction.

Weydert says that Prem Basuta was unaccounted for shortly before the second fire broke out.

On Oct. 15, 2011, Lodi firefighters extinguished a small fire inside Salisbury’s Market around 6:30 a.m. Fire crews left around 7:55 a.m. but returned less than a hour later to find that the market was in flames, again.

The Prem and Lulwinder Basuta and Gurmail Singh had a $1 million insurance policy and claimed more than $500,000 in damages.

Investigators, according to Weydert, determined the second fire was started intentionally. However, Farley argues that there were significant errors during the course of the investigation.

“To rely on the analysis of the investigators without taking into consideration the errors that were acknowledged in my motion was misplaced alliance,” he said.

Farley says that he doesn’t know how a judge will rule on Monday, but that the evidence presented is very circumstantial.

“The notion that the government’s evidence presented in the preliminary examination is sufficient to hold the defendants over for trial is subject to a lot of dispute,” he said.

Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at krisa@lodinews.com.

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