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Problem is, this home-cooked meal was illegal

From a soured marriage comes a dated videotape of a proud fisherman reeling in an alligator.

By LEANORA MINAI, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 21, 2002


From a soured marriage comes a dated videotape of a proud fisherman reeling in an alligator.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Gregory LaPrete saw the alligator swimming back and forth and decided he was going to catch it.

He cast his fishing line into the lake. The 6-foot alligator snapped at the lure a few times. With one tug, the gator was hooked.

LaPrete reeled it to shore, and he and a friend tied it up. Then they drove home and ate the meat.

On Wednesday, the adventure at Viking Lake caught up with LaPrete. He was arrested after his estranged wife reported the deed to authorities and provided investigators with a videotape of the capture and skinning.

"He thought it was pretty cool that he caught an alligator," said the estranged wife, Lisa LaPrete, 22.

It is against the law to kill an alligator in Florida because they are classified as a species of special concern. Wildlife investigators say the charge, a third-degree felony, is rare.

LaPrete, 26, was released late Wednesday from the Pinellas County Jail and could not be reached for comment.

His mother, Debbie Preble, is aghast at the accusation that her son, the owner of a pressure washing business, would kill an alligator.

Never, she said.

"If anything, he'd want to own it and make a home for it with a pool," said Preble, 50.

The alligator killing occurred about 1 1/2 years ago, but state prosecutors recently decided to pursue LaPrete after reviewing evidence from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"We have to understand that alligators have been here long before humans," said John Weatherholt, a Fish and Wildlife education specialist. "Florida is their habitat, and we need to learn to respect that."

It all started on Sept. 15, 2000.

LaPrete, his wife and a friend went fishing for ladyfish and trout at Viking Lake, at 7116 15th St. N.

When LaPrete saw the alligator, he wanted to catch it because there were several people at the lake, the arrest affidavit said.

"He was throwing the hook, like teasing the alligator," the estranged wife said. "Finally, when the thing snapped, he jerked up the line real quick and hooked him right in the chin and started reeling him in."

LaPrete and a friend taped the alligator's snout shut and put the animal in the back of the friend's truck.

The capture was caught on videotape, investigators said.

"He was telling everybody, 'Oh, I'm just going to let it go,' but he ended up taking it home and killing it," Lisa LaPrete said.

When their marriage soured, she provided the wildlife commission with the videotape.

"They told me since I had turned him in, I wouldn't be charged," she said.

She told investigators that after catching the alligator, they drove to her husband's friend's house, where LaPrete and his friend put the alligator in a bathtub and slit its throat.

LaPrete and his friend carried the gator to the kitchen table and cut it open from throat to tail. LaPrete split the meat, enough to last a month, with his friend.

"I was pregnant at the time, so I had to go outside," the estranged wife said. "I felt like I wanted to puke."

Yet, she videotaped the skinning of the gator, she said.

That weekend, the LaPretes went to a friend's house for a cookout. They breaded, seasoned and fried the gator in an outdoor cooker.

She tasted it.

"That meat was tough."

-- Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Leanora Minai can be reached at minai@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8406.

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