Police swoop in to nab suspect in parrot theft
By LEANORA MINAI, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- The cell phone rousted Michael Fryer from his sleep at midnight.
"I've got your bird," a man with a Southern drawl said.
Fryer jumped up and peppered the stranger with questions. Where was B.J., his stolen pet cockatoo? Was the parrot hurt? How could Fryer get his bird back?
After 20 minutes of haggling, Fryer agreed to meet the man at a Citgo gas station in St. Petersburg. Fryer would bring $100 in exchange for the bird.
When the ordeal finally ended at 3 a.m. Tuesday, police had arrested and charged Tony Shortt, a 28-year-old homeless man, with dealing in stolen property: the white 11/2 pound cockatoo.
Fryer, who raised B.J. from an egg, was relieved and impressed with the police sleuthing involved in the recovery. After Fryer pulled his black Lincoln Navigator into the dark gas station Tuesday, Shortt stepped out from a phone booth. In an instant, a half-dozen police cars swooped in.
"It was just like on television," said Fryer, who makes gourmet sauces in Pinellas Park and runs Xanadu Yacht Charters in St. Petersburg.
B.J., a 10-year-old bird worth $5,000, was featured on bottles of Fryer's gourmet sauce and learned to dance disco and spin around an index finger like an acrobat. He was snatched Sunday from Fryer's office at 3434 17th Ave. N.
Shortt, who is being held in the Pinellas County Jail, told detectives that he did not steal B.J. He said he rescued the bird from kids who were beating it with a stick in a supermarket parking lot. Police don't buy that story.
"There's no injuries to the bird," said St. Petersburg Detective Tim Brown. "That bird's in perfect health."
Police say that after Shortt got B.J. on Sunday, he sold the parrot to a friend for $100. On Monday, Shortt noticed fliers around the neighborhood announcing a $5,000 reward. Police say Shortt panicked and called Fryer. He was willing to get the bird back from the friend if Fryer paid him $100.
After Fryer got the call from Shortt, Fryer called police and met officers several blocks from the gas station. An undercover detective rode with Fryer to the gas station, where Shortt was arrested.
After questioning, Shortt admitted to selling the bird to a friend and led police and Fryer to the bird, which never left a 1-mile radius of his home. B.J. hugged Fryer by resting his head on Fryer's chest.
"Then he stood up real tall, and I said to him, 'Now, B.J., say thank-you to the police,"' Fryer said. "He opened up his wings and flapped them and bounced up and down in his happy mood."
B.J. got his favorite treat Tuesday: a hamburger and french fries from McDonald's.
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