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Owner held in club fire: Police say troubled former gynecologist set blaze to collect insurance money
[May 16, 2009]

Owner held in club fire: Police say troubled former gynecologist set blaze to collect insurance money

COLONIE, May 16, 2009 (Albany Times Union - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- A month after acquiring Saratoga Winners, town police said its owner set it on fire to collect the insurance money.

This isn't the first time Akiva D. Abraham, 43, of 316 Miller Road, Rexford, is in the public spotlight. A former gynecologist, he lost his medical license in 2005 for sexual contact with a patient and other misconduct.

Abraham is charged with arson in the third degree, insurance fraud and falsifying business records in the first degree, all felonies. Police say he acquired the building for free from its former owners Nickole and Steven Sutliff, who were facing foreclosure. Abraham then claimed he had a $475,000 mortgage on the place.

"No money was exchanged," said Police Lt. John Van Alstyne. "He had that building insured for $475,000. It was vacant. There was nothing in it. His scheme was to get an insurance policy on a vacant and abandoned building for the purpose of setting the fire." The fire, which destroyed the former concert hall, was considered suspicious from the start. It began at 3:15 a.m. April 30 in a vacant building that had no power. Investigators using a State Police dog found accelerants had been used inside and outside the building, which laboratory tests confirmed, Van Alstyne said.

When police learned Abraham had such a large mortgage on the property, that added to their suspicions; Van Alstyne said $475,000 "for that building seems excessive, which was another indicator." Abraham was arraigned in Colonie Town Court Friday night and was ordered held without bail in Albany County Jail. He said nothing to Town Justice Andrew Sommers during the brief appearance.

The arrest is the result of an investigation by town police, Colonie Fire Services, State Police, the Albany County district attorney's office, the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control, the Albany County fire coordinator, and the New York State Insurance Dept.

Abraham had operated an gynecological office in Clifton Park, but his license was revoked Aug. 2, 2005. State Health Department records list the reasons as "guilty of engaging in conduct which evidence moral unfitness; practicing fraudulently; filing false reports; failing to main accurate records; having a psychiatric condition which impairs the ability to practice medicine and negligence on more than one occasion." A ruling in the case by the state Board for Professional Medical Conduct states one doctor who examined Abraham described him "as a self-centered, deceitful, manipulative and amoral individual who has little or no capacity to empathize with others. She found he had a history of breaking rules and that he believed he was not bounds by the norms of society or his profession. Because of the longstanding, entrenched nature of the disorder, and because of Respondent's rigid personality, there is little chance for real change from cognitive psychotherapy." Police were aware Abraham had been stripped of his medical license, Van Alstyne said, but it is not relevant to the arson case. There were no charges involved, he said, and Abraham has no criminal history.

"We're aware of it but it really has no bearing on our current case," he said.

After he lost his medical license, police said, Abraham began to refer to himself as Daniel Abraham, using his middle name. He became owner of First Call Staffing, an employment firm in Clifton Park. A few days after the fire, a Times Union reporter found him in the office with papers piled and strewn in every direction.

He said he had planned to renovate the building to reopen it as a club. "These tough times, people look for places to gather," he said.

The conversation didn't last long. The telephone rang. Abraham answered it. The caller could be overheard identifying himself as a Colonie police investigator and saying he had a couple of questions for Abraham. Abraham covered the phone with his hand and said: "I'm going to have to take this call. I'll call you later." He never did.

Reach Tim O'Brien at 454-5092 or at

To see more of the Albany Times Union, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2009, Albany Times Union, N.Y.

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