ALLEGANY — Last Friday, Sam Fahy and his wife Lisa were in their backyard swimming pool when she spotted something moving in the grass.
They both looked at the brownish object moving toward their above ground pool. “What the ---- is that?!” Lisa shouted to Sam.
Her husband had a pretty good guess what it was — and where it might have come from.
“It was about 3 feet from the edge of the pool,” Sam said. “It was kind of shocking seeing it and watching it.”
The Fahy’s home is two doors down from the East Union Street home of William Engelder, where nearly 300 reptiles and other endangered species were removed by Environmental Conservation police last August.
Sam said he got out of the pool that is connected to the ground by a ramp and picked up a pool skimmer which he used to trap what turned out to be a nearly 2-foot American alligator.
He called his next-door neighbor for help. The alligator started to move toward bushes, so Sam put a kitty litter box over it and a big rock on top.
Then he called 911. The dispatcher paused for a moment after Sam said there was an alligator at his home.
“She hesitated after I said I live in Allegany and I just caught an alligator in my backyard,” he said.
The reptile was about 18 inches long. But it was an alligator. In Allegany — as it happens, home of the Allegany-Limestone High School Gators.
The alligator’s appearance came just days after the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced the charges Engelder would face when he is arraigned in Allegany Village Court Aug. 6.
The charges were the result of an 11-month investigation sparked by a tip that Engelder had a large number of reptiles. His home was searched and he was arrested Aug. 10. It was the largest seizure of reptiles in state history, according to DEC officials.
Sam Fahy said Engelder believes incorrectly that he phoned in the original tip to the DEC about the reptiles last year. “Most neighbors try to avoid the situation,” he added.
The DEC announced last week that they had formally charged Engelder with first-degree reckless endangerment, a class D felony; illegal sale of wildlife, a class E felony; possessing a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle, a misdemeanor; nine counts of overdriving, torturing and injuring animals, an Agriculture and Markets Law class A misdemeanor; failure to provide proper sustenance, an Agriculture and Markets Law class A misdemeanor; 26 counts of illegally possessing and transporting venomous reptiles, a violation; possessing an endangered species without a permit, a violation; and 283 counts of illegally possessing a wild animal as a pet, a violation. The reptiles included king cobras, several gila monsters and hundreds of turtles, some rare and endangered.
DEC officers determined on Friday that the alligator had come from the Engelder residence at 26 E. Union St., and they obtained a search warrant for the residence. They discovered a painted turtle and three box turtles.
Engelder was charged with one count of illegally possessing a dangerous animal — an American alligator; one count of illegally possessing a wild animal — painted turtle; and three counts of illegally possessing a wild animal — three box turtles.
He was arraigned in Allegany Village Court and was released into the custody of the Cattaraugus County Probation Department.
Engelder will be arraigned on the original August 2018 charges on Aug. 6 in Allegany Village Court.
Animals seized on Friday are being temporarily housed at the Erie County SPCA.
The Times Herald was unable to contact Engelder by telephone. There was no answer when a reporter knocked on Engelder’s front door Monday night. There was no response to a note seeking comment on the reporter’s business card left at the residence.
The Buffalo attorney who initially represented Engelder on the charges last August, Peter M. Kooshoian, did not return a call seeking comment.
Conservation officers will formally turn the cases over to District Attorney Lori Rieman for investigation and prosecution.
Josh Frank, the assistant district attorney handling DEC charges against Engelder in Allegany Village Court, indicated the separate incidents could be presented to a grand jury to return indictments or a no bill, or it could be presented as Superior Court Information which would require the defendant to plead guilty to certain charges.