Duo strikes laundries, foiled by clothing

— From the Altamont Police Department

Surveillance video from the Rotterdam self-service laundry that was burglarized shows the face of James F. Wallingford, which led to his identification and arrest.
 

— From the Altamont Police Department

James F. Wallingford
 

ALTAMONT — Two men that police say have problems with heroin are suspected in an attempted burglary of the village’s self-service laundry.

One suspect has been charged and is out on bail, and another has been identified but not yet apprehended, in a criminal-mischief and attempted-grand-larceny case, according to Altamont Police Chief Todd Pucci. The 24-hour coin-operated laundry at 996 Altamont Blvd. is not staffed.

James F. Wallingford, 40, of Schenectady, was arrested on Jan. 20. He was charged with second-degree criminal mischief, a felony; fourth-degree attempted grand larceny, a misdemeanor rather than a felony because it was only attempted; and possession of burglar’s tools, a misdemeanor.

Since officers became aware of the other suspect’s identity, Pucci said, he has already been arrested by Albany Police once. Speaking of the other suspect, Pucci said, “He’s got a heroin problem, to be honest with you. They both do.”

Altamont Police Officer Christopher Laurenzo told The Enterprise, “It was part of what Wallingford admitted to me personally, that he has an addiction to heroin, and that he was using heroin that night.” Laurenzo was referring to the early morning hours of Jan. 8 when the laundry in Altamont was burglarized.

Wallingford declined to comment to The Enterprise.

The felony charge is for destroying the laundry's coin changer, which will cost $3,511.22 to replace, Pucci said.

The same charges await the second suspect, who police say has been identified but not yet apprehended. This suspect, a resident of Berne, was identified by his own mother, Pucci says, when the police showed her photos from the security footage.

The view from security cameras

The crime unfolded over several hours, beginning at about 1:05 a.m. on Jan. 8, Pucci said, when one of the suspects is seen on security-camera footage entering the laundry, heading to the change machine and fumbling with it for a few minutes before leaving.

A couple of hours later, the same man returns, this time with another man. They both have “pry bars,” according to Pucci. They try to get into the change machine again, and again fail. This time, they damage the machine.

At about 3:20 a.m., the two men return, with a larger pry bar. This time they stay about 20 minute and manage to pry off part of the machine. One suspect removes his glove and reaches in with one hand before pulling his hand back out and holding it as if injured. Both suspects exit, Pucci said.

“They never did get any money out of the change machine,” he added.

In all of the footage, faces of the two men are covered, one with a ski mask and the other with a hood.

Guilderland Police were the first to respond to laundry owner John Donato’s call at 7:30 in the morning that same day. Altamont Police do not usually begin work until 8 a.m.

Both Altamont Officer Jill Kaufman and Altamont Chief Pucci arrived on the scene immediately after receiving the call, at about 7:35, joining first responding officer Adam Myers of Guilderland.

Myers, Kaufman, and Pucci agreed that, since the crime occurred in the village and since Altamont’s caseload is generally lighter than Guilderland’s, they would work jointly toward solving the case.

Pucci called Guilderland detective Charles Tanner, who came to the scene and took photos and swabbed the machine for DNA.

Police showed photos from the security footage to staff at several businesses in the immediate area, including Altamont Auto, Stewart’s, and Sunoco. They received one tip about a different subject, which they followed up on, but “it wasn’t him,” Pucci said.

The break

Then later that same evening, “we saw on the news that Rotterdam had a Laundromat that was also hit,” Pucci related. In that incident, two men stole money from both “a washing machine and a Pac-Man machine,” Pucci said.

“Well, we noticed the same coats as in our footage,” the chief said. “They were wearing the same clothes!”

So they contacted Rotterdam Police and were able to view video footage from that incident and confirm, through clothing, height, and other factors that two suspects “were the same gentlemen.”

Altamont, Guilderland, and Rotterdam police then released footage from Rotterdam to the media, and got “a couple of calls with the names,” Pucci said. “So that was our break,” he continued.

The Altamont incident occurred during the early morning hours of Jan. 8. The incident in Rotterdam began that same evening and carried over until the wee hours of Jan. 9.

Detective Claude Sawyer from the Rotterdam Police told The Enterprise that the suspects in the Rotterdam incident first entered the Rotterdam laundry during the evening of Jan. 8 and did their laundry, without masks on. They returned a few hours later to the same laundry, wearing masks, but dressed in the same jackets and clothes and shoes that they had worn earlier. This meant that the police were able to release video footage of them without masks on and get tips from the public.

A third man was with them in the video footage, but he was only there doing laundry, and was not part of the burglary, Sawyer said.

Sawyer accompanied Officer Christopher Laurenzo of Altamont to the house of the suspect from Berne who has not yet been apprehended; that suspect’s mother agreed that it was him, Pucci said.

“We had that suspect in custody less than a month ago, on a vehicle and traffic misdemeanor here in the village,” Pucci said. The suspect did not show up for his court date on the traffic charge on Jan. 7, so a criminal summons was issued, ordering him to appear in court on Jan. 28. He failed to appear then either, and at that point a warrant was issued for his arrest.

“So we do now have a warrant out for that charge. We should have him in custody soon enough,” Pucci said.

Since officers became aware of the other suspect’s identity, Pucci said, he has already been arrested by Albany Police once.

The officers interviewed Wallingford, who at first denied having anything to do with the incident in Altamont, because “he knew his face was covered in Altamont,” Pucci said. “But he did go for the Rotterdam one.”

So the officers went back and spoke to Wallingford again, Pucci said, this time asking him for a DNA sample. Pucci said, “We showed him the video where the person we thought was him took his glove off, and that’s when he said, ‘Oh, you got me; it’s me.’”

Wallingford then gave “a full and voluntary statement,” Pucci said, in which he also confirmed the identity of the second suspect.

Wallingford was arraigned in the village by Judge Rebecca Hout and sent to Albany County’s jail on $10,000 cash or bond.

He has since posted bail and been released, Pucci said. He appeared in Altamont Village Court on Feb. 4, where his case was adjourned until March 4, so that Wallingford could undergo a drug evaluation.

One other factor that helped the officers in their investigation, Pucci said, was receiving video footage from area businesses, including Altamont Auto and Sunoco, which allowed them to “identify the car as it went back and forth.” Video footage from the State Employees Federal Credit Union further allowed them to confirm the same car, which Pucci said was a Saturn, heading out of the village.

“So for the most part, the case has been solved,” Pucci said. “We just have not made all the arrests yet. But the one is already in custody and the other is soon to be.”

Donato, the owner of Altamont’s laundry, said that the only change he plans to make is to replace the coin changer. He will still keep the laundry open 24 hours a day.

“You can’t let people deter you, you know?” he said.

Told by The Enterprise that the suspects are said to have a problem with addiction, Donato said, “That’s no excuse. I’m high on life. That costs money too. But I don’t steal for it.”

More Guilderland News

  • Several school board members said they would like to see the district meet the dietary needs of, for example, Jewish students who keep kosher or Muslim students who follow dietary laws specifying which foods are halal, or lawful, and which are haram, or unlawful.

  • Elliot and Nancy Greene, the across-the-street neighbors of Bernard Radtke, were before Guilderland’s zoning board on Sept. 7 looking to appeal a determination made by the town’s zoning administrator, which said Radtke was allowed to keep more than one large commercial dumpster on his property. 

  • GUILDERLAND — Rachel Ferluge, who worked at a Stuyvesant Plaza boutique when she was a University

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