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PREVIOUS COVERAGE | E. Manatee python capture was snake charmer’s hoax (w/video)

MANATEE — Remember that 14-foot python that Wildlife Rescue’s Justin Matthews wrestled out a drain pipe on July 25, and how it drew national attention?

Turns out it was staged.

Matthews, a well known wildlife trapper, admitted as much to a Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission investigator on Wednesday.

“I wanted to make a point, but I regret it now,” Matthews said today.

FWC spokesman Gary Morse said the incident is still under investigation.

“It was a lapse in judgment on his part,” Morse said.

With media and others watching, Matthews crawled into a drain pipe at 51st Avenue East and 33rd Street and struggled to pull out the large reptile, sparking fears that the spread into the Florida wild of pythons and other giant snakes had come to Manatee County.

Here is video of Matthews and the python a few days after it was "captured," when he took it to a local veterinarian to examine it to see if had been tagged with a computer chip that might help identify the owner.

The owner of Southeast Reptile Exchange in Tampa said today he sold the snake to Matthews on June 26.

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