As general manager of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s Melbourne restaurant Fifteen, Kevan Stralow was responsible for banking the cash and making sure things ran smoothly.
Instead, he stole $23,000 from the restaurant’s takings and burnt down its office.
A Victorian County Court jury on Wednesday found the 34-year-old guilty of arson over the million-dollar blaze that destroyed the Flinders Lane building.
After deliberating for one day, the jury also found him guilty of 16 counts of theft from the restaurant over a number of months in 2008.
Prosecutors told the two-week trial that Stralow stole the money and gambled it away.
He then started the blaze to try to cover up the thefts.
Prosecutor Sarah Thomas said Stralow started the fire after returning to the office on the night of June 5, 2008. He had gone home sick earlier that day.
During the fire, Stralow’s desk fell through the floor to the offices below, and he later told the restaurant’s financial controller the money went with it, she said.
“He said he had left $12,000 from several weeks’ takings in an expandable file under his desk,” Ms Thomas said.
“There was never $12,000 in the file – he’d spent it.”
The court heard that soon after starting at the restaurant in January 2008, Stralow had missed regular banking dates for the takings and would deposit the money a few days late.
Ms Thomas said he had started playing poker machines and was known as a “big roller” at the Black Opal gambling venue in central Melbourne.
Initially, Stralow told police he had been at his girlfriend’s place on the night of the fire, but when confronted with a CCTV tape showing him entering the building at 7.18pm he said he had returned to check emails.
Smoke started coming from the building about 15 minutes after he left at 7.30pm, and it took two hours for firefighters to get the blaze under control.
The Fifteen restaurant, now known as Kitchen Cat, is about 200 metres from the office.
Jamie Oliver had set up the Fifteen Foundation to encourage disadvantaged youth into the food and hospitality industry.
Judge Carolyn Douglas thanked the jury for their assistance and patience, given the trial ran longer than scheduled.
She said the courts were grateful to people who “go out of their way to assist” and exempted them from jury service for five years.
Stralow was remanded in custody to appear in court for a pre-sentence hearing on Friday.