‘Case about greed,’ Nunez prosecutor says
Defense lawyer says insurance payment to dentist was justified
Prosecution witnesses testified Tuesday that a building owned by Kingston dentist Gilberto Nunez was vacant at the time of a February 2014 fire and that a contractor was not paying to store his tools there.
Nunez, who was acquitted in June of killing his exlover’s husband, is standing trial in Ulster County Court for theft and insurance fraud charges stemming from a claim he made on the building he owned at 381-385 Washington Ave., next door to his dental office. Prosecutors allege Nunez filed a false claim for lost rental income on the property in order to steal $8,400 from his insurance company following the fire, while the defense says Nunez was entitled to the payment and the amount in dispute is just a small fraction of his overall claim.
“The case you are about to hear is a case about greed,” Orange County Senior Assistant District Attorney Maryellen Albanese, the special prosecutor in the case, said in her opening statement Tuesday. “It is about a man who padded an insurance claim.”
Albanese said Nunez did not have rent coming to him from the property but that Preferred Mutual Insurance Co. took him at his word when he made the claim for lost rental income. She said that claim for lost rent came from an agreement Nunez made with his friend and tenant above his dental practice, Matthew Topple.
Nunez had Topple sign a lease stating he stored his construction tools in the neighboring building, but no payment was ever made, Albanese said. She said Nunez
claimed to be receiving $1,200 a month from Topple but that Topple easily could have rented a storage space for $100 to $200 a month if he needed a place for the tools he normally kept in his van or on a job site.
Defense attorney Evan Lipton said Topple never told Nunez he would not pay the rental amount for storing his tools. He also said that in addition to storing tools, Topple used the building as the base for his construction business.
Nunez and Topple were friends, and Topple would do construction work for Nunez in exchange for rental payments, though they never had a strict accounting of what was owed, Lipton said. He said the two men had an informal, trusting relationship.
“Nunez never intended to take anything he was not due under his insurance,” the defense lawyer said. He said his client expected to be paid either through cash or barter.
Both lawyers also spoke about Nunez’s insurance on the building, the premium for which was higher while the structure was vacant.
Amongst the prosecution witnesses was Topple’s wife, Mariel Melnick-Topple. Under questioning by Albanese, Melnick-Topple spoke about how the couple, engaged at the time, did not have a lot of money to spend and were trying to pay for their wedding.
“We weren’t bringing in much,” she said. “We were eating peanut butter and
jelly for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” She said Topple was working a series of odd jobs and she was not bringing in any money because she was student teaching for her degree. Topple would barter his work for their rent, Melnick-Topple said.
To her knowledge, Melnick-Topple said, Topple never agreed to pay $1,200 a month to store his tools or sign a five-year lease to do so. She said they did not have that kind of money to spend.
Under questioning by Lipton, Melnick-Topple acknowledged the couple sometimes spent more money than they had because they had to pay for their wedding.
Troy Ashdown, a housing inspector for the city of Kingston’s Building and Safety Division, testified he inspected the property in question on Feb. 18, 2014, two days before the fire. He said he did not enter the ground floor of the twostory building, which was commercially zoned, but instead inspected the upstairs apartment.
“It was vacant,” Ashdown testified of the apartment. He said Nunez told him his son had lived there a few weeks prior.
Other prosecution witnesses testified Nunez told them he had winterized the building, draining the water pipes and turning the heat down before the fire occurred.
Kingston firefighter and fire investigator Todd Werba testified he was at the property the day of the fire and that there were some contractor tools sprawled on the ground of the first floor of the building. Werba also said he had to move a tire and some ladders to get to the origin of the fire.
Nunez has not been charged with starting the fire, but has been charged with insurance fraud, grand larceny and five counts of falsifying business records, all felonies. The cause of the fire was never determined.
The trial is to resume at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.
On June 14, Nunez was acquitted of murdering his former lover’s husband, Thomas Kolman, in November 2011. Nunez, however, was found guilty of two felony counts of possession of a forged instrument for having a fake CIA identification card on his computer and for giving his former lover a letter purporting to be from a CIA agent.
Kolman, 44, whose wife Linda was having an affair with Nunez, was found dead in his own vehicle at a shopping plaza in the town of Ulster. Prosecutors alleged Nunez poisoned him with a dental sedative so he could have Mrs. Kolman to himself. The defense argued Nunez and Thomas Kolman were best friends and the dentist had nothing to do with the death.
Ulster County Judge Donald A. Williams has said he will not sentence Nunez for the forged instrument convictions until after the dentist stands trial for the charges related to the insurance fraud, as well as for charges of perjury, offering a false instrument for filing and making an apparently sworn false statement in connection to allegedly filing false information while applying for a pistol permit. Jury selection for that trial is expected to begin next month.
Gilberto Nunez, right, leans in to speak with his attorney, Evan Lipton, on Tuesday in Ulster County Court.