A Whitestone man described by Fire Marshals as “a career criminal” could be spending the next 14 years on ice, after admitting guilt in the November 2 blaze that gutted the Lollipop Diner and damaged a bank of stores in the Whitestone Shopping Center.
Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown announced that Michael P. Trantel, of 15-29 159th Street in Whitestone, pleaded guilty to third-degree arson on Wednesday, March 19, before Acting Queens Supreme Court Justice James Griffin.
Justice Griffin indicated that he would sentence Trantel to seven to 14 years in state prison on April 1.
Trantel has been held without bail since his arrest by Fire Marshals operating out of the new command center in Fort Totten last November 7, five days after the fire.
He admitted that he broke into the local landmark eatery – located at 153-31 Cross Island Parkway North – and after stealing some cigarettes and a lighter, he set a bag of Halloween candy on fire, according to DA Brown.
Surveillance video of the diner showed Trantel outside the closed establishment, as well as entering from the front of the diner and exiting from the rear, according to court papers. He reportedly had asked a nearby security guard for a cigarette and had been rebuffed before breaking in.
“The fire could easily have caused serious injuries or death to firefighters charged with fighting the blaze or others who may have been inside or around the building,” Brown said. Trantel “destroyed a popular business and caused extensive damage to neighboring stores,” he observed.
At the time of his arrest, Trantel had been out on parole less than four months for a previous arson and burglary, for which he served less than eight months in prison.
He had been on probation for another burglary, during which he allegedly attempted to set fire to a paint store to cover his crime, at the time of his previous arrest.