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Sneaking snakes on plane costs Fairbanksan $500 and trip to federal court

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Posted: Friday, May 10, 2013 11:14 am | Updated: 11:47 am, Fri May 10, 2013.

FAIRBANKS - The landmark federal case of USA vs. Mayo is scheduled to conclude in a Fairbanks court today with a $500 fine and a $25 fee for Matthew Mayo, who violated the Lacey Act by transporting a garter snake on a plane last summer from Idaho.

The 23-year-old Mayo captured a two-foot garter snake and brought it on the 737 charter flight back to Alaska last summer when he was a BLM firefighter.

He had asked for a trial, but in March he dropped that demand and agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor.

The defense said Mayo and the other firefighters “entertained themselves during their off hours by capturing the surrounding lizards and snakes.”

“Mr. Mayo transported the snake, whom he named Isabelle, in a cardboard lunch box and took her on the BLM charter flight back to Alaska,” the sentencing memorandum by his public defender says. “Although there were at least two other smaller snakes that accidentally got loose on the plane during the flight home, Mr. Mayo denies that he had any other snake than Isabelle.”

“Once back in Fairbanks, Mr. Mayo went to Petco to purchase food and equipment for Isabelle. He set up a cardboard box for her to live in and furnished a ‘hot rock’ to keep her warm. He was keeping her as a pet at the time she was seized by law enforcement.”

The prosecution said that Mayo “should have known the snake was unlawfully taken” and that he had four other smaller snakes in the box. At least two six-inch snakes got loose on the plane, the prosecutor said, and while Alaska Fire Service Crew Boss Logan Churchwell nabbed one, “the other was never caught.”

Mayo gave conflicting stories about how many snakes he had taken, whether he was ordered to hand them over and whether a snake had escaped on the plane, the prosecution said. The court papers don’t say what BLM did with the snake.

I’m all for keeping snakes out of Alaska, but perhaps it can be done without spending the untold thousands of dollars consumed by the twists and turns of this snake-napping.

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