A New Jersey man has pleaded not guilty to six federal charges related to an arson fire that destroyed the Hitching Post, a landmark Cheyenne hotel that was a popular place for Wyoming lawmakers to stay during the annual legislative session.
Falgun Dharia, 51, of Flanders, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges including conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. He faces between 20 and 110 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if convicted.
Dharia posted $500,000 bond, and the trial is set for June 15 in Cheyenne.
Dharia’s attorney, M. David Lindsey, of Englewood, Colorado, declined to comment Friday beyond saying he looked forward to Dharia’s exoneration at trial.
Two other men already are serving prison time for the arson.
Ajay Jariwala, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is serving a six-year prison sentence for commissioning the arson, and Robert Rodriguez, also of Albuquerque, a five-year prison term for carrying it out.
Dharia was a principal in CJM Hospitality LLC, which had bought the Hitching Post at a bankruptcy proceeding for $1 million. Dharia arranged for Jariwala to oversee the renovation of the hotel and with Jariwala decided hire Rodriguez to burn it down to collect insurance, according to the indictment.
In September, 2010, Jariwala arranged a phone conversation between Rodriguez and Dharia in which Dharia guaranteed Rodriguez would be paid if he set fire to the Hitching Post main lodge, federal prosecutors allege.
The fire happened early on Sept. 15, 2010.
Before the fire, the Hitching Post had a steakhouse and a bar with regular, live music acts. Rooms on the property that survived the fire continue to be rented out, but the main lodge hasn’t been rebuilt.
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