Clayton restaurant owner pleads guilty to arson solicitation

Posted: Apr. 10, 2014 6:04 pm Updated: Apr. 24, 2014 7:14 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

John C. Gotway of Clayton pleaded guilty Thursday to a charge of solicitation to commit arson.

In exchange for Gotway's negotiated plea, a second charge involving solicitation to commit insurance fraud was dropped.

Gotway, 70, will be sentenced at 9:45 a.m. May 23 in Adams County Circuit Court. Under terms of the plea agreement, he likely will be sentenced to probation and will have to pay a $5,000 fine.

Gary Farha, first assistant state's attorney for Adams County, told Judge Scott Walden that he recommended probation in this case, because Gotway has no prior felony convictions.

According to an arrest report, the investigation centered on a plan to burn Gotway's restaurant, John's Cafe in Clayton, to collect insurance on the business. Farha told the court Thursday that Gotway had a $208,000 insurance policy on the building and $50,000 policy on the contents.

"The business was not doing very well," Farha told the court.

According to Farha, investigators gathered evidence that showed Gotway paid a confidential source $100 in advance for agreeing to burn down the restaurant and promised to pay the person another $100 once the arson was carried out.

Farha said the confidential source recorded a conversation with Gotway that indicated the arson plan called for igniting a fire that would appear to have started from faulty Christmas lights.

"This never really happened," Farha said, because Gotway was taken into custody on Dec. 3 at the conclusion of a two-week investigation by the Adams County Sheriff's Department. He was indicted by a grand jury in December.

Gotway initially pleaded not guilty to the charges of solicitation to commit arson and insurance fraud and could have faced up to seven years in prison if convicted of both charges. But by agreeing to plead guilty to the arson charge alone, he likely won't face prison time, Farha said.

As part of the plea agreement, Gotway was required to pay the $5,000 fine within 24 hours of Thursday's court hearing. Gotway's attorney, Larry Kabrick, said Gotway was going to pay the fine immediately.

Walden ordered the Adams County Probation Department to prepare a pre-sentence investigation report. He will then use the report to determine the terms of the probation at Gotway's May 23 sentencing.

Gotway has been free since posting $1,500 bond Dec. 5.