YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Four people were indicted Tuesday morning in connection with an October arson in Boardman.
A grand jury charged that Sonia Bhatia, 24, described as the niece of Spice of India restaurant owner Rajendra Ingle, hired Christopher Reynolds, 20, and Jessie Winphrie, 22, to burn the restaurant.
The case is under investigation. Prosecutor Rebecca Doherty believes the motive was to collect insurance money for the destroyed building. Winphrie and Reynolds face two counts of arson, while Ingle and Bhatia face two counts of arson and one count of insurance fraud.
The fire happened Oct. 8 at the restaurant at the corner of McClurg Road and Market Street in Boardman. Fire crews from Boardman and Beaver Townships knocked down the flames, and Boardman’s fire chief said at the time that the restaurant was about a $225,000 total loss.
Court records showed several suits filed between Ingle, owner of Spice of India, and Tzarnas Family Company, the building’s landlord, dating back to March 2013. Both parties refused to comment at the time, referring interview requests to their respective attorneys.
A civil suit filed Sept. 27 in Mahoning County Court alleges Ingle failed to pay $2,000 monthly rent in both August and September. The Ohio Department of Taxation filed a lien against the restaurant in August for failure to pay a little more than $1,000 in sales tax. An eviction notice was taped to the door of the business and the eviction hearing was set for Oct. 21, but the restaurant went up in smoke on Oct. 8.
Investigators credit the work of Boardman police and fire departments and the State Fire Marshal for cracking the case.
“Arson cases in general are very difficult and time consuming. It’s easy to prove that a fire was arson, but it is more difficult a lot of times to prove exactly who did it,” said Detective Glen Patton, Boardman Police Department.
Assistant Mahoning County Prosecutor Becky Doherty said there were several indicators at the time of the fire that is was a criminal act.
“Because of the way things happened in the burning down of the building, they were able to see a lot of the equipment was actually gone,” said Doherty. “A lot of the kitchen equipment was gone prior to the fire.”
All four suspects are being held in the Mahoning County Jail.