Tom Crutchfield

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Tom Crutchfield, also known as Tommy, is an American reptile breeder known for his extensive Homestead, Florida, facility and his 1999 arrest and conviction under Operation Chameleon for trafficking in exotic animals and violating the Lacey Act, which temporarily suspended his business. He has called himself "the Mick Jagger of the reptile business".[1] The case was later featured on National Geographic's Locked Up Abroad.[1] He is also the focus of the 2008 book by Bryan Christy, The Lizard King, along with Michael Van Nostrand of Strictly Reptiles,[2] and the 2011 book Stolen World by Jennie Smith.[3]

Early life[edit]

Before becoming interested in reptiles, Tom was a carpet salesman.[1]

Work with reptiles[edit]

An albino Burmese python.

Crutchfield is well known for his work with reptiles. In 1981, he purchased the first documented amelanistic Burmese python from a Thai dealer, for $21,000 USD, after seeing the animal featured in a 1981 edition of National Geographic magazine. He then partnered with Bob Clark to produce the first captive-bred albino Burmese pythons from that animal.[4] He also produced the first albino Iguana iguana and supplied reptiles to movies such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Raiders of the Lost Ark.[5]

Reptile smuggling[edit]

In 1992 Tom was charged with illegally importing reptiles. The charge had little effect on business as that same year he imported sixteen Gaboon vipers and fourteen Burmese pythons via the Montgomery Zoo.[6] Later, in 1995, Tom was convicted a second time, of illegally smuggling Fiji Banded Iguanas into the United States.[7] The case was tried in district court after complaints that the prosecutor's dissection of Penny Crutchfield's, Tom's wife, sexual behavior was irrelevant in a case about illegally importing iguanas.[8]

In 1997, US Marshals and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, under Operation Chameleon, informed Tom that he was under investigation for wildlife smuggling for the third time.[1] In the 1997 charge, he was accused of conspiring with two German nationals, Wolfgang Kloe and Frank Lehmeyer, and a Japanese national, Kei Tomono, to illegally import over 200 reptiles and amphibians, including Madagascar tree boas, Madagascar ground boas, as well as a species of turtles, all species under the protection of CITES.,[7] Tom immediately fled to Belize, but he was extradited back to the US by officials there.[1] Crutchfield was sentenced to 30 months in prison.[7] Of his 1992-1999 smuggling activity, Tom stated that he was "guilty because I'm guilty."[9]

2011 shooting[edit]

In March 2011, Tom's business partner and the owner of the snake farm property, Bruce Stephenson, arrived on the property with a gun and barricaded himself inside one of the buildings on the property. SWAT team members responded to the situation and initiated a standoff. Tom was grazed by a bullet, and the situation ended when gunfire ceased and an armed body was found inside the building.[10][11]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Snakes on a Plane". National Geographic. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  2. ^ "The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World's Greatest Reptile Smugglers". Amazon. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  3. ^ Jennie Smith (2011). Stolen World. Random House.
  4. ^ Michael E. Dorcas; John D. Willson (2011). Invasive Pythons in the United States: Ecology of an Introduced Predator. University of Georgia Press. pp. 122–123. ISBN 978-0-8203-3835-4.
  5. ^ "Who's Who in Reptiles: Tom Crutchfield". Reptiles. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  6. ^ Alan Green (7 March 2006). Animal Underworld: Inside America's Black Market for Rare and Exotic Species. PublicAffairs. p. 79. ISBN 0-7867-3683-6.
  7. ^ a b c "#140: 04-16-99 REPTILE SMUGGLER SENTENCED FOR TRAFFICKING IN RARE SPECIES". US Department of Justice. 1999-04-16. Retrieved 2014-01-10.
  8. ^ "United States v. Crutchfield". Animal Law. 1973-03-03. Retrieved 2014-01-10.
  9. ^ Chelonian Conservation and Biology: Journal of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group and International Bulletin of Chelonian Research. Chelonian Research Foundation. 1998. p. 372.
  10. ^ "SWAT Standoff at Crutchfield Reptiles". Kingsnake. Retrieved 2014-01-10.
  11. ^ "Homestead SRT Standoff Ends, Man Found Dead Inside Home". CBS Miami. 2011-03-31. Retrieved 2014-01-10.

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