Bradenton animal trapper charged in python hoax

rnapper@bradenton.comNovember 5, 2009 

MANATEE — A well-known Bradenton nuisance-animal trapper, who admitted to staging the capture of a 14-foot python on July 25, has been arrested on charges stemming from the hoax.

Justin Matthews, 47, faces a felony charge of misuse of a 911 emergency system and a misdemeanor charge of maintaining captive wildlife in an unsafe manner, according to a report released today by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

FWC investigators say on July 25, Matthews called Tampa Bay area media outlets to witness the capture of a Burmese python from a drainage pipe. Matthews told onlookers he was capturing the snake after residents in the area reporting seeing it over a number of months, the report said.

But Matthews later admitted to purchasing the snake legally from a licensed reptile dealer in Tampa a month earlier and planting the snake in the drainage pipe, creating a media buzz that made national headlines, the FWC report said.

While FWC investigators looked into tips that Matthews had staged the capture, Matthews admitted to the hoax during a press conference, saying he did it to bring awareness to the growing problem of irresponsible python owners.

Matthews declined to comment about the case Thursday, saying he is seeking an attorney. But he said he is still giving wildlife presentations and conducting rescues.

“It’s embarrassing. This was a shock,” Matthews said of his arrest. “But I am going to get seek counsel and deal with it.”

FWC officials arrested Matthews on Wednesday, and he has since been released from the Manatee County jail on $5,750 bond.

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