Guilty Plea for New Jersey Man Involved in Hitching Post Arson

By BEN NEARY | July 20, 2015

A New Jersey man intends to plead guilty to a federal charge stemming from the 2010 arson fire that destroyed the Hitching Post Inn in Cheyenne, Wyoming, according to court records.

Falgun Dharia of Flanders, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty in January to six charges, including conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

Federal prosecutors and Dharia filed notice in federal court in Cheyenne on Wednesday saying his case will be transferred to New York, where he faces other charges. The notice says Dharia will plead guilty to an unspecified Wyoming charge in New York.

John R. Powell, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Cheyenne, declined comment Thursday.

Michael David Lindsey, a lawyer in Englewood, Colorado, represents Dharia in the Wyoming case. He declined comment on Thursday on what particular Wyoming count Dharia will plead guilty to in New York.

Lindsey said no date has been set yet for Dharia to enter a plea in New York. He said Dharia remains free on bond. Dharia had posted $500,000 bond on the Wyoming charges.

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 just over $1 million. The indictment against Dharia alleged that he arranged for Jariwala to oversee the renovation of the hotel and with Jariwala decided to hire Rodriguez to burn it down to collect insurance.

The indictment charges that, 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. The fire happened early on Sept. 15, 2010.

Before falling on hard times in the years before the arson, the Hitching Post Inn long had been an important gathering spot in Cheyenne. It featured a steakhouse and a bar with live entertainment and had served as home for many state lawmakers during their winter legislative sessions.

In sentencing Jariwala in September 2013, U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal in Cheyenne said the Hitching Post had been the gateway facility to Cheyenne.

“Now, sadly, we have a field of weeds and a blighted environment. When it was in its heyday, we had a magnificent hotel,” she said.

Criminal charges pending against Dharia in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York include bank fraud, making a false statement on a tax return and obstruction of justice. Robert S. Wolf, a New York lawyer, represents Dharia in that proceeding and didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

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