A Connecticut woman accused of setting fire to a business owned by a fellow stripper’s stepfather was caught because of DNA she left behind on a potato stuffed in a truck’s tail pipe at the scene, police say.
Martin was arrested on July 12 on charges connected to the September 15, 2015, fire that destroyed a building in Prospect, the Connecticut State Police said Wednesday in a press release.
She worked at the Hollywood Connecticut Strip Club with the friend, Breonna Constantino, whose stepfather owns MTM Masonry Inc. and Chimney, which was targeted by Martin, police said.
Constantino’s stepfather found a potato stuffed in the tail pipe of a van belonging to his business when he arrived at the scene of the fire, police said. DNA was found on the potato and was traced to Martin’s then-boyfriend, who had previously been convicted of drug charges, police said.
The boyfriend, Matthew Garguilo, 28, helped set the fire and is also facing charges, the State Police said. He is in prison for three years for violating his parole in the drug case, according to court records.
Martin put the potato in the tail pipe to “blow up the engine,” her boyfriend told police, according to WTNH-TV.
Here’s what you need to know about Martin and the fire:
1. Martin Is Accused of Setting the Fire Because Her Stripper Friend Hadn’t Paid Back $1,200 She Loaned Her During a Jersey Shore Trip
Willow Martin was upset at her fellow dancer friend because she was taking too long to pay back $1,200 she loaned her during a trip to the New Jersey shore they took during the summer of 2015, police said in court documents, according to the Hartford Courant. She had paid back only about $300 to $400 of the loan, according to court documents.
Martin gave the friend, Breonna Constantino, the money to pay for clothes during the trip to Wildwood, police said.
Her boyfriend, Matthew Garguilo, told police that Martin texted him and said he wanted to burn down the business owned by Constantino’s stepfather, according to WTNH-TV. Garguilo told police he reluctantly went along. They got a can of gas and drove to the Prospect business, where he said he hid in a bush while Martin poured the gasoline on the business and then lit a napkin on fire to start the blaze.
Garguilo told police the fire caused an explosion that blew through a door “just like in the movies,” and they left, the Courant reports. He said they returned later to see the damage and he told police Martin high-fived him and said “yeah!”
The manager of the Hollywood Strip Club told police Martin still worked there as a stripper, according to WTNH. He said Constantino hadn’t been in for awhile. They began working at the Southington strip club last summer. He also told police that Martin and Constantino had been best friends, but eventually couldn’t work together because of the dispute, the news station reports.
2. She Was Already in Custody in New Jersey After Being Caught With Counterfeit Bills, Heroin & a Large Knife at the George Washington Bridge Toll, Police Say
Martin was arrested in Fort Lee, New Jersey, on June 13 after police said she tried to use counterfeit money to pay for the toll at the George Washington Bridge.
She gave a toll booth clerk three fake $10 bills, Port Authority Police spokesman Joe Pentangelo told NJ.com.
When police arrived, they said they smelled burnt marijuana in her car and began a search. Martin also was seen tossing a small bag from her pocket book onto the back seat of the car, police said. The bag contained 10 envelopes of heroin and drug paraphernalia, police said.
They also found 13 counterfeit $10 bills, a large knife described by police as a “cleaver,” 31 other glassine envelopes containing heroin, and a burnt marijuana cigar in the car, Pentangelo told the news site.
Martin waived an extradition hearing in New Jersey and was picked up by Connecticut State Police troopers on July 12 at the Bergen City Jail, police said in a press release.
It is not clear if she is still facing charges in New Jersey.
3. The Fire Also Destroyed a Chinese Restaurant & Caused $450,000 in Damage to the Building
The September 15, 2015, fire destroyed the offices of MTM Masonry Inc. and Chimney and the Golden Wok Chinese restaurant, which was located in the same building, NBC Connecticut reported at the time.
The fire, which started about 5 a.m., was called in by Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield, who was formerly the town’s fire chief. He happened to be across the street at Dunkin’ Donuts at the time.
“Smoke was coming out the front door,” Chatfield told NBC Connecticut. “Seconds upon my arrival, fire blew out of the building because the windows were breaking.”
“There was heavy fire conditions pretty much all throughout the building,” Prospect Fire Chief Jason Kolodziej told the news station. “It’s pretty bad inside.”
No one was injured. It took about 45 minutes to knock down the fire, which was determined to be intentionally set in the days after the blaze.
The fire caused $450,000 in damage and the building had to be razed, the Waterbury Republican-American reports.
The Connecticut State Police said the Prospect Fire Marshal’s Office requested the help of their Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit detectives and the Central District Major Crime Squad.
4. She Began Dating Another Man After Garguilo Went to Prison & Told Him About the Arson, Police Say
Matthew Garguilo, Martin’s boyfriend at the time of the fire, was sentenced in March to three years in prison for violating his probation in a previous case, according to court records. Garguilo was convicted in 2013 of possession of narcotics and illegal possession of a weapon in a motor vehicle. He was sentenced to a three-year suspended prison term and put on probation for three years.
Garguilo, of Enfield, is now facing charges connected to the arson, including conspiracy to commit second-degree arson, conspiracy to commit third-degree burglary and conspiracy to commit first-degree criminal mischief, all felonies. He was arrested July 7, the Connecticut State Police said.
After Garguilo went to prison, Martin began dating another man, according to court documents obtained by the Hartford Courant. Her new boyfriend told detectives about the arson and the potato stuffed in the tail pipe, the Courant reports.
5. Martin Is Being Held on $110,000 Bail & Is Facing Several Felony Charges
Martin is being held at the York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Connecticut, on $110,000 bail, according to online records.
She is facing several felony charges, including second-degree arson, third-degree burglary, first-degree criminal mischief and attempted first-degree criminal mischief. She also faces felony conspiracy charges on all four counts and misdemeanor charges of possession of burglar tools and conspiracy to commit possession of burglar tools.
Martin, who has no previous arrest record, is scheduled to appear in state Superior Court in Waterbury on August 3. She has not yet entered a plea.