Fortuin admits threats, arson, obstruction

Kenneth Fortuin

KNOX — Kenneth Fortuin withdrew his previous plea of not guilty and pleaded guilty on April 24, to arson and obstructing firefighting. He appeared in Albany County Court in front of Judge Peter Lynch.

The plea deal, according to the court transcript, calls for a sentence of two-and-a-third to seven years in state prison, and stipulations that Fortuin pay restitution, that he abide by a no-contact order of protection, and that he not be admitted into the shock incarceration program — a highly regimented prison with rigorous physical activity for offenders convicted of non-violent crimes, which can reduce jail time.

Fortuin’s lawyer, Cheryl Coleman, agreed that Fortuin had waived his right to a jury trial and to appeal, and told Lynch, “At sentencing we’ll also be asking the Court, we know this isn’t a drug offense, but we’ll be asking the Court to consider recommending him for the CASAT and other programs which come along with the nonviolent felony conviction,” she said, referring to Comprehensive Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment. “It’s something that was an important part of this understanding,” she said.

“Okay,” responded the judge. “But as you know, because it’s not a drug offense, I cannot order CASAT.”

Fortuin, 49, a Hilltown native and contractor, burned the house at 75 Saddlemire Road in Knox where he had grown up and later lived with his wife and children. He set the house on fire the night of Feb. 5, two days before his divorce was finalized. Four buildings on the property he owned with Andrea Fortuin burned to the ground. He had felled trees to block firefighters from getting to his property off of Street Road in Knox, and was in a standoff with police for hours.

Using armored military vehicles, the police surrounded him in his pickup truck in a field near his house the morning of Feb. 6. He surrendered just after 7 a.m.

“We observed he had a firearm in is hand...No shot was fired,” Albany County Craig Apple said at the time. He also said he had worried “it would be suicide by cop or he’d take his own life.”

Soon after, fund-raisers were organized — one for Kenneth Fortuin by Hilltown neighbors, and one for Andrea Fortuin by friends in Schenectady where she has a yoga studio.

“It’s heart-warming to see this community wrap their arms around him,” said Cheryl Frantzen in February; a long-time friend, she said funds from the well-attended event would go for his legal defense.

Fortuin’s bail was set at $150,000 — twice what the district attorney’s office had requested. Fortuin’s lawyer at the time, Paul Devane, said Fortuin was “penniless” and couldn’t afford his bail. He also said, “There was no risk of flight. He had wonderful support from his family and three offers of places to stay and three offers of employment by companies.”

Andrea Fortuin, who spoke to The Enterprise through her friend, Renee VanKuren, said in February that she had been selling her share in the property on Saddlemire Road to Kenneth Fortuin, and a judge had set the closing date for Feb. 14; the papers had been drawn up. Andrea Fortuin is left to pay a large tax bill and mortgage with no assets, VanKuren said.

Andrea Fortuin had stayed at VanKuren’s home outside of Altamont in the early morning hours as the house on Saddlemire Road burned. “She and her daughter got here at 2:30 in the morning...[Kenneth Fortuin] had texted photos of what he was doing to Andrea and the kids...The texts never stopped.”

Speaking for her friend, VanKuren said Andrea Fortuin’s advice would be: "You don’t have to take my side but don’t defend someone when you don’t know what’s going on...Understand there are many sides to a story before you form an opinion.”

Kenneth Fortuin agreed in Albany County Court last Thursday to pay $149,624.54 in restitution, which, Lynch said, was set by the outstanding mortgage. A no-contact order demands that Fortuin stay away from his ex-wife.

“She’s holding up well,” VanKuren said this week. “As long as he doesn't get out on bail before they sentence him, I think they’ll all rest easier.”

Third-degree arson, a felony, has a maximum penalty of seven-and-a-half to 15 years in jail, Lynch said, and obstructing firefighting operations, a misdemeanor, has a maximum penalty of one year in jail.

In court last Thursday, Lynch asked Fortuin if, on Feb. 5, at 75 Saddlemire Road in Knox, “did you intentionally damage the residence and several outbuildings located at that address by starting fires in said buildings? Did you do that?”

“Yes, sir,” answered Fortuin.

“With respect to the second count on that same date, time, and place,” the judge went on, “did you intentionally and unreasonably obstruct the efforts of the Knox Fire means of cutting down trees in order to block the roadway and thereby preventing firefighting apparatus from reaching the scene of the active fires at the residence and outbuildings and you, being armed with a loaded handgun, did threaten to shoot the responding firefighters if they attempted to proceed any further onto the property to extinguish the fires? Did you do that?”

“I did, sir,” answered Kenneth Fortuin.

He is scheduled to be sentenced in Albany County Court on June 19 at 9 a.m.

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