A convicted arsonist has been arrested and charged with setting fire to a diner in Queens after stealing cigarettes, authorities said. The blaze gutted the popular eatery and seriously damaged seven other businesses, fire officials said.
Michael Trantel, 42, stole cigarettes from Whitestone’s Lollipop Diner early Sunday, then set the fire to cover up the burglary, fire officials said. A law enforcement source said Trantel feared he would be identified from surveillance video, much the way he was last year when he was convicted in an unrelated case.
No one was injured in the fire.
The diner and the other businesses in the strip mall near the Cross Island Parkway that were damaged, — including two banks and a GNC store, — were closed at the time of the 1:15 a.m. fire.
Trantel, who lives in Whitestone, was charged with arson, reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, burglary and larceny.
Last year, Trantel pleaded guilty in November to burglary and arson. In the burglary case, Trantel broke into an Ace Hardware store on Francis Lewis Boulevard and was captured on video stealing property from two desks, then trying in vain to set fire to the store, authorities said. In the arson case, Trantel caused minimal damage by setting fire to a Chevy Malibu on the same block.
Trantel was sentenced to 1 to 3 years in prison, but was paroled in July.