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To all the world - including, apparently, their wives - Mark Missino and Bernard McAllister described themselves as professional poker players who made a decent living at cards.
But a judge and the state's attorney's office offered a much different characterization of the pair on Friday, describing the two men as operators of a professional burglary ring whose reach extended across multiple states and an as-yet unknown number of cities and towns.
Missino, 43, of Waterford, and McAllister, 40, of Lisbon, appeared in New London Superior Court Friday for their arraignment on first-degree larceny charges stemming from the discovery last month of $1 million worth of stolen goods in a storage unit in East Lyme.
Police have linked the men to at least 88 burglaries up and down the Interstate 95 corridor between New York and Rhode Island and expect a number of additional charges. Stamford police have active arrest warrants for the pair, and other cities and towns are expected to submit their own as well.
"This is the tip of a large iceberg," said Ken Barrett, an intern for the state's attorney's office.
"I agree it's a professional operation," Judge Kevin McMahon said later, adding that "this is one of the most widespread burglary rings (investigators) have seen."
Neither man entered a plea, and McMahon set their bonds at $2.5 million each.
Bond amounts adjusted
Previously, Missino's had been $250,000 while McAllister's was $2.5 million. No explanation for the discrepancy was offered other than the warrants having been signed by two different judges.
The state's attorney's office has requested that the case be heard in Part A court, where more serious crimes are heard. The two men's cases were each continued to Jan. 4.
Missino also has a violation of probation charge, for which his bond was set at $50,000, and a pending DUI case, for which his bond was set at $500.
Barrett described the two men as significant flight risks and said the pair was about to flee the country when captured in Massachusetts last month.
East Lyme police said they found the two men walking out of a storage unit filled with $1 million in stolen goods on Nov. 13. Police said the men fled when confronted by police; they were captured four days later in a motel in Leominster, Mass.
The two were held in Massachusetts on fugitive from justice charges.
According to Barrett, the men told Leominster police that they had planned to leave the country the next day. It was unclear where they were headed.
Old-school, modern police methods
After three years of unsolved burglaries, police finally zeroed in on Missino and McAllister using old-school methods combined with modern technology.
Police in a number of towns had all gathered similar evidence - the same sneaker prints, glove prints and tool impressions - and determined that a white Nissan Maxima had also been used.
East Lyme investigators asked the New England State Police Information Network, NESPIN, to run a crimes analysis based on data collected by each of the police agencies participating in investigations of burglaries in upscale neighborhoods along the I-95 corridor, according to the arrest warrant affidavits.
The analysis showed that the tool impressions were found more than 57 times, the sneaker prints in more than 14 residential burglaries and similar glove prints more than five times.
Several departments meet
On Nov. 9 East Lyme police hosted a meeting of several police departments and learned that Greenwich police had performed a "cell tower dump" immediately after one of the residential burglaries in their town.
Greenwich police seized thousands of cell phone numbers and transmissions in the immediate vicinity of the burglary at the time it was committed, including a phone number issued to Missino.
A Waterford police detective drove by Missino's house at 92 Shore Road and spotted a white Nissan Maxima registered to McAllister.
They subsequently learned that McAllister and Missino were listed as co-registrants on another vehicle, and that East Lyme police had been watching a white Maxima they thought was associated with narcotics activity. East Lyme police had seen the car going in and out of the self-storage facility parking lot in East Lyme.
On the night of Nov. 13 Greenwich police alerted East Lyme police of a residential burglary in Greenwich and asked local officers to watch for the Maxima. East Lyme police said they went to the storage unit and found the men walking out of the unit, both smoking cigarettes.
The men fled, according to the warrant, leaving the storage unit open and many items inside in plain view. Police said they saw fur coats, jewelry, money, electronic devices, a large safe that had been damaged, crowbars, sledgehammers and Reebok sneakers with the same pattern found during the burglary investigations.
At 1:30 the next morning, a Waterford police detective and an East Lyme police sergeant went to Missino's house and spoke to his wife, who told police she thought the two men were playing poker in Madison.
McAllister's wife, too, told police that her husband and Missino were together. When police tried calling each man's cell phone, the phones had been turned off, according to the warrant. Missino did not reply to a text his wife sent him saying, "The cops are here."
In a statement to police later, Missino's wife, Gail, said the two men "are very good friends and professional poker player partners who are together at least five days a week." She said she hadn't heard from Missino since she attempted to text him at 2 a.m. with police present.
According to McAllister's arrest warrant, McAllister's wife, Stefanie, told police her husband had dyed his hair dark black within the previous two weeks and that she hadn't heard from him since Saturday night. That was "uncommon because he would normally call if he wasn't going to be home," the warrant said.
Missino rented the storage unit on Nov. 5, 2008, and transferred it to McAllister's sister on Nov. 17 of that year, according to the warrant. The sister's cell phone number was disconnected, the warrant said.