Bellefonte — The confidential informant who first led police to Maksim Illarionov, and who wore a wire during Illarionov’s last alleged robbery attempt, testified Wednesday against his former associate.
Lindsay Coatman took the stand Wednesday afternoon in the trial for Illarionov and his co-defendants, Dmitriy Litvinov and Anatoliy Veretnov.
The three men are accused of taking part in a crime spree that started with burglaries and escalated to armed robberies of businesses and people in and around State College.
Coatman said he built a relationship with Illarionov, whom he calls “Max,” because he was willing to be a getaway driver.
“He had one goal,” Coatman said. “He wanted to rob all the banks in State College. “He described himself as a ninja burglar. He really likes being a burglar.”
At 51 years old, Coatman is more than twice Illarionov’s age. But he said he possessed useful skills, and soon gained the 23-year-old’s trust.
“I drive very well and I’m like a walking road map,” he testified. “I’m not afraid to put a car anywhere at any speed.”
Prosecutors said Coatman also wasn’t afraid to take Illarionov “freestyling,” or cruising around random neighborhoods, looking for potential homes to target.
Coatman testified that Illarionov’s calling card when breaking into homes was to take a window frame apart, get in the residence, and then put the frame back together after leaving.
“So it would take the homeowner a long time to figure out how they were broken into,” he said. “Max liked going in without people knowing.”
Coatman said Litvinov had a very different approach, one that allegedly pushed the group toward more daring crimes.
“Max is light on his feet and Dmitriy is more of the enforcer,” Coatman said. “(Litvinov) was more of an adrenaline junkie ... ready to rock and roll on a dime.”
According to his testimony, he first contacted police when the group’s plan to rob a cash drop at an ATM escalated.
“It was just getting a little too crazy,” he said. “Dmitriy was talking about actually going into the bank with weapons, taking down the place in three minutes, firing guns at people inside. That’s not me.”
Coatman continued to associate with Illarionov after going to police.
He wore a listening device on two occasions. Both the tapes were played Wednesday for the jury of 11 women and one man.
On the first tape, jurors allegedly heard Illarionov selling Coatman fraudulent vehicle registration stickers.
He said the stickers were hidden in the basement of Illarionov’s apartment building on South Allen Street.
Police officers testified Wednesday that part of a security camera, taken from the Dollar General Store in Centre Hall during a February 2010 burglary, was also found in the basement hiding spot.
Doris Lawson, the store manager, wept on the stand Wednesday when she was shown the assault rifle allegedly used to hold her at gunpoint and rob the business.
Another store employee described the experience as surreal. “Up until I saw the bayonet (on the rifle), it felt like a sick joke,” he said.
On the second tape, the jury heard what is allegedly the last attempted robbery by the group.
Coatman, wearing a wire, drove Illarionov, Litvinov and Alexei Semionov in March 2010 to Uncle Chen’s Chinese Restaurant in downtown State College.
He testified the men intended to rob the business, but got there too late and drove around to find a home to rob instead. They were arrested later that night, he said.
During the original trial in 2011, a mistrial was declared when Semionov pleaded guilty during the proceedings. He was sentenced in February to at least 36 years behind bars in a state prison.
Coatman testified Wednesday that both Illarionov and Litvinov bragged of their involvement in different crimes.
Absent from much of his testimony, however, was Veretnov, whom he said he only met twice.
Coatman answered the prosecution’s questions bluntly during his testimony, which stretched several hours — and will continue this morning.
He acknowledged he was arrested in 2009 for possessing 70 marijuana plants at his home. He pleaded guilty to a felony, but has not been sentenced.
He insisted, however, that prosecutors did not offer him a deal in exchange for his testimony in the case.
Still, attorneys for the defendants, who will get a chance to cross-examine Coatman today, will likely call his motivation into question.
On Wednesday, Ronald McGlaughlin, who is representing Veretnov, aggressively questioned a former inmate who says he heard jailhouse confessions from Veretnov.
McGlaughlin’s line of questioning may have damaged the witness’s credibility with the jury.
The trial is scheduled to continue at 8:30 a.m. today in the Centre County Courthouse Annex.
Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter