Owners accused of conspiring to burn Wyoming hotel

January 10, 2012 - 2:20 PM
Cheyenne Hotel Fire

FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 15,2010 file photo showing flames burning through the roof of the Hitching Post Inn in Cheyenne, Wyo. The company that insured the Hitching Post in Cheyenne accuses the hotel's owners of conspiring to burn the property to collect $13.6 million in insurance money. (AP Photo/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Michael Smith,File)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The company that insured a landmark Wyoming hotel destroyed in a 2010 arson fire is accusing the hotel's owners of torching the property to collect insurance money — the latest step in a legal dispute over a still-unsolved case.

Federal investigators pegged the cause of the fire that destroyed the Hitching Post's main building as arson, but no arrests have been made. For decades, the hotel had served as the favored bunkhouse and watering hole for Wyoming state lawmakers who come to Cheyenne for a month or two each year.

A federal lawsuit filed last week by Illinois-based National Surety Corp. accuses hotel owners CJM Hospitality LLC of intentionally burning the hotel to collect $13.6 million in insurance money. The Casper Star Tribune first reported the lawsuit Saturday. Attempts on Tuesday to reach lawyers for the insurance company and owners listed in the lawsuit were unsuccessful.

In addition to alleging that CJM committed arson, it charges the company provided "misleading and misrepresented information as to the financial ability, employment history and work experience of CJM's purported owners."

In December, Delaware-based CJM filed a federal lawsuit in New Jersey seeking to force payment on the insurance policy.

The federal investigation continues. John Powell, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cheyenne, declined comment Tuesday. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Cheyenne Police Department have offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

The Hitching Post was being remodeled and was close to reopening when it caught fire in September 2010.

In its heyday, the hotel was the go-to place for Capitol movers and shakers. It boasted a steakhouse and a dimly lit lounge for jazz acts. Wyoming's legislative directory listed it as the address for many lawmakers during the annual legislative sessions.

Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, has served in the Legislature since 1979 and stayed at the hotel until recent years. He credited former owner Paul Smith, who died in 2006, for making the hotel the choice of most out-of-town legislators and the hub of legislative business outside the state Capitol.

"When Paul Smith was running it, by gum, he sure knew how to run a place," Scott said Tuesday. The Hitching Post won an informal bidding war for legislative business that saw room prices drop to as low as $5 a night, Scott recalled.

As a freshman, Scott said, senior legislators quietly advised him that "the Hitching Post was the place to stay because everybody stayed there and you could do a lot of business after hours."

"You meet people in the halls, you meet them in the coffee shop. Some of them that were so inclined, you met them in the bar."

___

Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle - Cheyenne, http://www.wyomingnews.com