Los Angeles authorities filed criminal charges Thursday against two men suspected of dumping an alligator named Reggie into a popular urban lake, which has been closed since last summer because the reptile has eluded capture.
"The victim here is all of us," City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo said as he announced the charges at 53-acre Lake Machado in the Harbor City section of Los Angeles. The recreational waterway is ringed by orange plastic-mesh fencing to keep visitors out.
Delgadillo, whose office is prosecuting the case, said he would seek full restitution from the defendants for the money spent searching for the alligator and guarding the lake, estimated at $155,000 so far.
Todd Natow, a 42-year-old former police officer, and Anthony Brewer, 36, both San Pedro residents, were charged with releasing an alligator into a lake, causing a public nuisance and multiple counts of unlawfully possessing restricted animals. They are also charged with marijuana possession.
The alleged crimes are misdemeanors. If convicted on all counts, Natow could face 14 years in prison and Brewer could get six years, Delgadillo said.
Defense attorneys for the men could not be reached Thursday for comment.
Natow and Brewer were arrested Aug. 24 and released. Delgadillo's office said they are to be arraigned Feb. 15.
Authorities said the two men dumped Reggie after he grew too large to handle as a pet.
Investigators found a virtual mini-zoo when they raided the suspects' homes, about a mile apart, in August. At Natow's house, they confiscated three juvenile alligators, four piranhas, a rattlesnake, three desert tortoises and a scorpion. At Brewer's they found two snapping turtles, evidence of an alligator habitat and photographs of alligators.
Authorities said they found about 38 ounces of marijuana at Natow's residence and eight ounces at Brewer's.
Reggie has not been spotted since October. But because alligators are hardy creatures that don't die easily, he is believed to be still roaming the lake.
"Experts think he's in semi-hibernation," Councilwoman Janice Hahn said during the lakeside news briefing. "He probably won't be seen until spring."
Professional alligator wranglers gave up after several tries at snaring Reggie. Hahn said the city was negotiating with Steve Irwin, star of the Animal Planet cable channel show "The Crocodile Hunter," to launch another attempt soon.
"He wants to film the capture," said Hahn, whose district includes the lake. "He feels he has the kinds of traps that nobody else has."
A proposal to find Reggie by draining the lake has been abandoned, Hahn said, because environmentalists said it would devastate other marine creatures and wildlife dependent on the watery ecosystem.
Hahn recently proposed a "safe surrender" law to allow city residents to turn in illegal fish, snakes and mammals without penalty. "The message today is loud and clear: You cannot dump unwanted animals in our city parks and lakes," she said.
Natow resigned from the Los Angeles Police Department in 2001 after serving seven years as an officer, authorities said. He pleaded guilty after being charged in May 2000 with drug use and possession and was ordered to enter a deferred treatment program, which he completed, the district attorney's office said.