David Cone and long-time girlfriend Taja Abitbol are answering charges made by a former neighbor earlier this year that the latter intentionally set her Upper West Side apartment on fire to land a spot on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives.”
The story, which ILTUWS broke in July, goes like this.
A fire broke out around 8:30 a.m. on November 6, 2019 at 10 West End Avenue. The FDNY sourced it to a table in the apartment where Cone and Abitbol lived and found the cause to be accidental. Daniel Rice, the former neighbor, lived directly below the couple and his apartment reportedly sustained significant water damage from the fire’s extinguishing.
Rice sued Cone and Abitbol earlier this year for $320,000 plus damages for what was described as a required “gut renovation to return [the apartment] to the condition it was in before the fire.” Rice’s lawsuit accused Abitbol of intentionally setting the fire “in order for Abitbol to have a story to discuss on the Tamron Hall Show and/or to advance Abitbol’s candidacy as a castmate for the Real Housewives of New York television show, among other things.”
From the start, Abitbol has been adamant that the fire was unintentional. In her messages to ILTUWS in July (after we published the story), she wrote “The candle was a sage candle and one of the leaves of sage caught fire. It was a hazard and I had no idea. The candle was not unattended.” She echoed these sentiments to the New York Post a week later.
Now she and Cone are firing back. Abitbol filed a suit of her own on October 15 and is seeking compensatory and punitive damages against Rice for defamation and compensatory damages against 10 West End Avenue for negligence.
In the newly filed complaint, Abitbol told her side of the story: she lit the candle as part of her morning prayer routine and fully extinguished it as she began to prepare her and Cone’s son for school. Abitbol left the apartment with the couple’s son before 8:00 a.m. and Cone stayed behind.
Cone later noticed black smoke emitting from the apartment’s air conditioning vents, checked the premises, and noticed a fire in the dining room, according to the suit. By the time he went to get water to extinguish the fire, the sprinkler system activated and took care of the flames.
“Almost immediately thereafter, the building superintendent arrived at the Premises and tried to turn off the sprinklers, but was unable to do so,” the lawsuit filed on October 15 reads. “The New York City Fire Department (“FDNY”) responded to an alarm, arriving at the Premises at around the same time that plaintiff ABITBOL was returning from bringing her and Cone’s son to school. At the time of FDNY’s arrival, the FDNY reported, “No Flame or Smoke Showing.”
Though the fire was extinguished quickly, Abitbol’s lawsuit alleges that the “sprinkler system and/or fire control system continued to spray water for an extended period of time, causing extensive damage to [her apartment] and certain other units of 10 West End Avenue, which would not have occurred had an employee been present with knowledge of how to turn off the sprinkler system.” Thus, according to Abitbol, the damage that Rice’s apartment purportedly suffered was because of “sustained water damage as a result of the water from the faulty sprinklers system” and not due to any of her or Cone’s actions.
Abitbol even took a polygraph test, according to her complaint, “administered and verified by two of the leading polygraph examiners in the country.” Her test was scored as truthful.
As for the former Yankees legend, he spoke to the Post recently and slammed the allegations. “I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it, because to me it was so frivolous and so bizarre I just assumed it was a play on money or a play on insurance from the beginning. I thought it was pretty ridiculous sounding.”
Abitbol’s lawsuit against the candle maker – which was filed approximately eight months before Rice filed his suit against Abitbol – remains open.