A man accused of setting fire to his pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of arson.
Hui Zheng, 39, of Worth, has been indicted on charges of arson and arson with intent to defraud insurance, for a fire that destroyed much of Canton Express, 11318 S. Harlem Ave., on New Year’s Eve. The structure was so badly damaged that firefighters called a demolition crew to aid the building’s collapse.
The charges against Zheng are Class 2 felonies, carrying a maximum penalty of seven years behind bars.
Prosecutors say Zheng — following an alleged burglary at the Chinese restaurant on Dec. 29, in which part of the floor was burned — was told by an insurance agent that only food supplies contaminated by gasoline would be reimbursed in a claim.
Footage from the Citgo gas station down the street shows Zheng filling a white gas can that was later used to ignite the Canton Express kitchen, according to prosecutors.
A witness on a neighboring apartment balcony told police Zheng took off in his car immediately after the restaurant roof exploded.
Zheng, a Chinese immigrant, has worked at the restaurant since it opened in 2008, and, according to Village of Worth clerk Bonnie Price, his name is listed as owner on the first and last applications for a business license.
After his arraignment Monday at the Bridgeview courthouse, Zheng affirmed his innocence but declined to comment further on the charges.
His attorney, Arthur Porto, also declined comment.
Pretrial hearings begin March 13 before Judge John J. Hynes.