Former Spice of India owner pleads no contest to arson

Raj Ingle pleas guilty to burning Spice of India Boardman, Ohio

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – One of four suspects in the October 2013 burning of the Spice of India restaurant in Boardman entered a plea Monday.

The restaurant’s former owner, Rajendra Ingle, pleaded no contest to one count of arson and one count of insurance fraud.

In February 2014, investigators indicted four people including Ingle. At that time, a grand jury charged that Sonia Bhatia, 24, described as Ingle’s niece, hired Christopher Reynolds, 20, and Jessie Winphrie, 22, to burn the restaurant.

Mahoning County Assistant Prosecutor Nick Brevetta said Monday that Ingle paid Reynolds and Winphrie $500 each to burn the place down and that Bhatia let them both in to the restaurant.

In court Monday, prosecutors said Ingle filed an insurance claim on the restaurant soon after it was destroyed, but never collected the money.

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, 2013 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 credited the work of the 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 at the time of the indictment that 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.”

As of Monday, Ingle remains free on bond. He and the others are all set for sentencing in July.

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