Whitesburg KY

Man accused of selling poisonous snakes

A 36-year-old Mayking man is scheduled to make his first appearance in court next week to answer nearly 80 charges filed against him after a two-year undercover investigation focusing on the illegal possession, importation and buying and selling of reptiles in Kentucky.

Verlin Ray Short, of 49 Cleo’s Loop in Pine Creek, is scheduled to be arraigned in Letcher District Court on July 25. Short was arrested by three Kentucky Fish and Wildlife officers on July 10 and faces at least 78 charges of illegally buying, selling and possessing venomous snakes. Each charge is a misdemeanor offense carrying a maximum penalty of one-year imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.

Fish and Wildlife Officers Homer Pigman, Greg Watts, and Lt. Frank Campbell seized 34 venomous snakes Short had in his possession, including a western diamondback rattlesnake, a great basin rattlesnake, timber rattlesnakes and northern and southern copperheads.

A criminal complaint filed last week says that on June 30, Short sold three venomous southern copperheads and two nonpoisonous eastern garter snakes without a permit to Sgt. James Bingham, a Fish and Wildlife investigator from Frankfort.

Short, who was released from the Letcher County Jail later July 10 after a surety bond was posted by Reva Short, is among 10 people arrested by 44 conservation officers who served arrest warrants in Bell, Harlan, Madison, Letcher and Boone counties. Officers also seized cobras, great basin rattlesnakes, a gaboon viper, a puff adder and an alligator.

Undercover officers purchased more than 200 illegal reptiles during the nearly two-year investigation code named “Twice Shy” that included Internet sales. Officers levied 416 charges, and expect to issue at least 300 more charges as the investigation continues.

“This was a well-conducted and well-documented investigation that has put those who would engage in the illegal selling and buying of any wildlife in Kentucky on notice that they are subject to arrest and prosecution,” said Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Director of Law Enforcement Colonel Bob Milligan. “It is disturbing to me that individuals would keep such dangerous wildlife in their homes and in neighborhoods where they put their families, visitors and neighbors as such high risk.”

Also arrested was Gregory James Coots, the pastor of a church in Bell County that handles snakes in religious rites. Taken from the Middlesboro home of Coots were 42 copperheads, 11 timber rattlesnakes, three cottonmouth water moccasins, a western diamondback rattlesnake, two cobras and a puff adder.

Coots, 36, is pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, where a Tennessee woman died after being bitten by a rattlesnake during a service in 1995. Her husband died three years later when he was bitten by a snake in northeastern Alabama.

Coots was also charged with buying, selling and possessing illegal reptiles.

All the snakes confiscated last week, plus one alligator, were turned over to the nonprofit Kentucky Reptile Zoo in Slade. Most appeared to have been captured from the wild, with some imported from Asia and Africa.

Zoo Director Jim Harrison said some of the animals would likely have become exotic pets had they not been seized.

“There’s been a large trade in exotics for years,” he said. “Some people are just fascinated with them.”

Some of the reptiles were advertised for sale on Web sites. One such Web site lists copperheads for $50 each and cobras for $450.

“You can purchase anything off the Internet except common sense,” Harrison said. “A venomous snake isn’t a pet. You don’t play with it. If you do, you’re an idiot.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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