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Police investigating theft from restaurant owned by couple who took sanctuary in Old Lyme church

New Britain — The New Britain Police Department is investigating the reported theft from — and damage to — the pizza restaurant owned by the Pakistani couple who spent 212 days taking sanctuary in the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme.

Police Capt. Jeanette Portalatin said police got a report on Wednesday that items were taken from the restaurant.

Malik Naveed bin Rehman and Zahida Altaf took over ownership of Pizza Corner in November, but facing a deportation order, they stayed in the church from March 19 to Oct. 16. They returned to New Britain after finding out that Immigration and Customs Enforcement would not oppose their stay request.

While there has been public controversy over the couple's immigration status and the church's decision to provide sanctuary, Portalatin said police do not believe the incident was targeted or political.

Rather, she said, "it appears to be a business deal with somebody they knew," and that police don't yet know if it will be a civil or criminal matter.

Steve Jungkeit, senior minister at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, said it had to be somebody who knew the alarm codes. He and other church members have gone to Pizza Corner on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to help with cleaning.

What Jungkeit described was like a scene from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." He said all the dough, cheese, drinks, desserts and utensils were taken, along with two freezers and the cash register. He said cardboard pizza boxes were thrown in the dumpster and the window air-conditioning unit was ripped out.

"Not even one piece of pepperoni was left," Rehman told the New Britain Herald, which first reported the theft on Thursday evening.

Neither Rehman nor Altaf could be reached for comment on Friday.

e.moser@theday.com

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