Published August 20. 2014 4:59PM Updated August 21. 2014 12:10AM
Lyme — The Weissinger brothers were trafficking high-quality jewelry, antiques, guns and precious metals from homes throughout the region, but the serial burglary case was centered in this small country town along the Connecticut River.
“It traumatized this town,” longtime First Selectman Ralph Eno said during a phone interview. “It absolutely did.”
As Justin P. Weissinger, 27, and Karl W. Weissinger, 23, were sentenced Wednesday in New London Superior Court in connection with a series of burglaries between 2009 and 2012, Judge Hillary B. Strackbein told them they had stolen the security of the entire community.
“We’ve all learned a lesson here, that no community is safe from crime,” Strackbein said.
Justin Weissinger, who had a prior record stemming from crimes he committed while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps at California’s Camp Pendleton, was sentenced to nine years in prison. Karl Weissinger, who had no prior record but was rearrested twice while his case was pending, was sentenced to 3½ years in prison.
Seven of the burglaries occurred in woodsy Lyme, where crime is rare. Overnight, residents went from never locking their doors to investing in high-tech home security systems. A transplant from New York City who thought it was safer to keep her valuables in Lyme than in Brooklyn said she had it wrong.
“Before my house was broken into in 2012, I used to think of Lyme and my home as a place where nothing bad happened,” the woman said in a letter to the judge.
The Weissinger brothers had grown up in the area, attending Lyme-Old Lyme High School. Their parents were divorced, and Karl and their mother, Nicole Weissinger, were living with Lyme’s former first selectman, William T. Koch Jr., when an investigation spawned by a high-speed police chase of the oldest brother led state police to a barn on Koch’s property in July 2012.
Justin Weissinger, a 2005 graduate of Lyme-Old Lyme High School, came home from Camp Pendleton in 2009 as a former Marine with a felony conviction for burglary. He was a key witness in a high-profile home invasion/murder involving four of his fellow former Marines. He was incarcerated when the crimes took place, but his fellow Marines told him about it in detail, according to testimony.
Karl Weissinger adored his older brother and it was a “big deal” that he had joined the Marines, said defense attorney Jeremiah Donovan, who represented the younger brother.
“When he (Justin) came back home, although he had a dubious career in California, none of the luster had worn off for his older brother,” said Donovan.
In Lyme, where a highly unusual number of residential burglaries had been taking place, the state police’s investigation gained traction in July 2012 when Justin Weissinger was found in possession of a .380 caliber pistol stolen from a Salem resident after he was pulled over by a Montville police officer following a high-speed car chase.
Weissinger was not living at the Koch home but had use of the barn and property, according to court documents. Using a key they had seized from Weissinger after the car chase, state police opened a gun locker in the barn and found guns stolen from burglaries in East Haddam and Salem. They found other stolen weapons in Weissinger’s car.
The investigation eventually led State Trooper Gary Inglis to the Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Co. jewelry store at 9 W. Main St. in Mystic, where he ran into Karl Weissinger, who was attempting to sell two stolen watches and a gold chain, according to the court documents. The younger brother was arrested in November 2012 and in June 2013, the store owner, Matthew Hopkins, was charged with purchasing stolen items valued at about $200,000 from the brothers.
Prosecutor David J. Smith said the state could not prove the two brothers had carried out the burglaries in Lyme, Old Lyme, Chester, Salem and East Haddam, but that the brothers had been found in possession of items worth more than $326,000.
Some of the victims have speculated that the Weissingers carried out the burglaries with others who have not been identified or charged. Lyme resident Sheila Bard said during Wednesday’s court hearing that the thieves went through every drawer and closet in her home, and for months after the burglary, she discovered more things missing.
“The criminal behavior of Justin and Karl Weissinger has greatly impacted the quality of my daily life,” said Bard, who has attended dozens of the brothers’ court appearances over the past two years. “My grandchild will not come to my home because a bad man went to Grammy’s house and made her cry.”
Lyme relies on state police patrols from Troop F in Westbrook for police coverage. Eno, the first selectman, said the calls to the troop went up significantly even after the Weissingers were arrested.
“It had people looking over their shoulders and quite frankly created an atmosphere I had never seen in this town,” he said.
Karl Weissinger, who has been free on bond, has been living at the Brush Hill Road residence and another Lyme address while his case was pending, causing some alarm among the burglary victims who said they would have preferred he been locked up. One victim told the judge Wednesday that he harassed her after she ran into him at the Old Saybrook McDonald’s.
Two town residents said at Wednesday’s sentencing that Nicole Weissinger, the men’s heartbroken mother, had shaken her fist at them after her sons pleaded guilty and blamed them for destroying her family. She denied the accusation and said there must have been a misunderstanding when she stood before the judge asking for leniency and the chance for her sons to show they can be contributing members of society.
Justin Weissinger, who has been incarcerated while his case was pending, told the victims he was sorry, adding that he understood “no apology, no matter how sincere, will make a difference.” He also apologized to his mother, saying, “I know of everyone here today, she is the person I let down the most.”
Acknowledging that it was no excuse for his behavior, Weissinger said he had started using drugs and things “snowballed.”
“My family and friends kept telling me to get help, and I kept saying I didn’t need any help,” he said.
Karl Weissinger chose not to speak at the sentencing, where the conflicted mother of his infant child, looking pale, thin and nervous, asked the judge for leniency for him while at the same time requesting a protective order prohibiting him from contacting her. The couple had been arrested in June following a domestic violence incident.
The younger brother had been electronically monitored by the Office of Adult Probation while his case was pending. For much of the time, he was allowed to leave home only for work, medical and legal appointments, according to testimony. On Aug. 1, when he went to the probation office to have the monitoring bracelet removed, Weissinger was arrested after police said he left his pit bull Eve in the car with the windows rolled up.
Strackbein, who had warned him at length not to commit any new crimes while taking his guilty plea in June, tacked on an additional six months prison time as a result of the new arrest. The animal cruelty case was not resolved at the sentencing and will be heard in the lower-level court.
The brothers will be on probation for three years following their release from prison and will be required to make restitution to the victims along with Hopkins, the jeweler, whose case is pending in the same court. Their restitution orders will be enforceable for 10 years, according to the prosecutor.