Former Norwich sober house operator heads to prison for planning home invasion

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A former Norwich sober house operator was sentenced Thursday in New London Superior Court to seven years in prison, followed by eight years of special parole, for planning a violent home invasion and robbery at a West Town Street residence on Dec. 1, 2017.

Daniel O'Brien, 55, had pleaded guilty in January to accessory to commit first-degree robbery. He stood before Judge Hillary B. Strackbein on Thursday for sentencing.

According to Norwich police, O'Brien, operator of Autumn Oaks Investment LLC, enlisted two men to go to the home of his former business partner, beat him and the property manager badly and steal the money they had collected in rent from five sober/rooming houses.

Police said two men entered the home at 83 West Town St. through a rear door, brandished a firearm and stole approximately $8,000 in rental payment and a cellphone. One victim was assaulted and suffered several fractures to the face and head. The second victim also was assaulted and suffered minor injuries.

The second victim told police he did not know the assailants but recently had ended a four-year business partnership in Autumn Oaks with O'Brien. The first victim worked as property manager for the business. They told police the partnership had dissolved after O'Brien failed to deposit into the bank rental income for the month of October.

O'Brien was not present during the home invasion.

"I don't believe the crime could have happened if not for his planning," prosecutor Lawrence J. Tytla said.

The case of one of the alleged home invaders, Luis M. Ruiz, is pending in the same court. The second assailant, identified only as "Psycho" in court documents, has not been arrested.

One of the victims was in court for O'Brien's sentencing but did not speak. Tytla said he could understand how the sentence of seven years in prison followed by eight years of special parole did not seem punitive enough for the victims but is comparable to sentences meted out for similar crimes.

O'Brien had stopped drinking between 1992 and was doing well, according to his attorney, Jake Donovan. It went "downhill and downhill quickly" for O'Brien when he resumed drinking in 2016, Donovan said.

Judge Strackbein called it a serious incident in which people were harmed and lost the security of their homes. She issued a permanent protective order prohibiting O'Brien from contact with the victims.  

k.florin@theday.com

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